Blackpool. The name sums up an image of donkeys on the beach, Kiss Me Quick hats and candy rock, but there’s a whole lot more to the Riviera of the North these days.
The Old Lady’s had a bit of a facelift, with plenty of money invested not only on the seafront but on the range of activities available, not least courtesy of Alton Towers operator Merlin Entertainment, which runs the Tower and various other seafront attractions.
There’s even a fancy social media hashtag – #BlackpoolHasItAll
Myself, wife Rose and 17-year-old Ellie stayed at the Hotel Elgin on the Queen’s Promenade.
The two-star Elgin is nothing fussy, but it’s welcoming and comfortable, and our family room boasts a spacious en-suite bathroom.
The Elgin knows its audience, with entertainment in the bar each evening, good food and restaurant service which is brisk and efficient without ever making you feel rushed.
The owners have recently taken over the Hotel Sheraton a couple of doors down and are in the process of a major refurbishment.
A quick look around shows the money has been well-spent and the Sheraton is set to be the perfect companion venue to the Elgin.
Saturday morning and we’re up bright and early to walk into town.
They don’t call it the Golden Mile for nothing – the famous Blackpool trams stop virtually outside the Elgin’s front door but we’ve foolishly opted to head in on foot and it takes more than half an hour to arrive at our first destination – Madame Tussauds.
Everyone knows the London version, of course, but Blackpool’s offshoot is no less fun.
It’s here we collect our Blackpool Passes – a must for any fun-seeking family.
The basic pass grants admission to Blackpool Pleasure Beach, Nickelodeon Land, the Blackpool Tower and 4D Experience, Blackpool Tower Dungeon, Sea Life Centre and Madam Tussauds and it’s £55 price tag represents a saving of more than £35, while the £80 Pass + adds in the zoo, Sandcastle Waterpark and Blackpool model village and gardens – perfect if you’re staying more than a couple of days.
Whatever you do, make sure you don’t forget your camera when you visit Madam Tussauds – you can get up close to all the figures and get some great souvenir pics.
There’s time for a drink in the museum’s mock-up of the Rovers Return, where Ellie has her picture taken with Deirdre while Rose spends a good couple of minutes trying to work out who one of the figures is supposed to be before he picks up his pint and she realises he’s one of the visitors.
Ellie has her hand immortalised in hot wax as a souvenir (less painful than it sounds) before we head off to the iconic Tower itself.
There’s a fab 4D cinema experience first – a tour of the town, and particularly the history of the tower, complete with 3D vision, movement and physical effects, before we head for the top.
Be warned – this is not one for those with a fear of heights. The tower now boasts the Skywalk, a viewing platform complete with panoramic windows – and a glass floor!
If you’ve ever been freaked out by the ceiling of the National Glass Centre, you might be well advised to avoid this one – imagine feeling there’s literally nothing between you and the entire height of Blackpool Tower.
Your feet might be telling you you’re on terra firma, but your eyes are having none of it.
Still shaking, we head for Harry Ramsden’s for lunch – well, you can’t do Blackpool without fish and chips.
And they’re lovely – proper chips and fish fried to perfection in lovely crispy batter.
Then it’s off to the Sea Life Centre. Educational and fun, it features a new Jurassic Seas section, highlighting the changes (and similarities) between prehistoric and modern creatures.
Then it’s off to brave the Blackpool dungeon.
The staff there are clearly all having a ball, and it’s a lot more hi-tech than it used to be, to, with physical effects and even a cool ‘drop’ ride at the end.
Then it’s back to the hotel – letting the tram take the strain this time – and off out to dinner.
We’re booked into Las Iguanas, part of a Tex/Mex restaurant chain on the seafront, and while the venue is a little loud, the food is great. My half rack of ribs is one of the best I’ve ever had and Rose and Ellie’s fajitas and enchiladas are soon gone too.
Sunday morning sees us off to the zoo, just a short taxi ride from the hotel – and a wonderfully up-close-and-personal experience with some lemurs– and then the Pleasure Beach.
It’s well over 20 years since Rose and I last visited – we’ve never even ridden The Big One, which towers over the shore – but a couple of our very favourite rises are still there. The Steeplechase sees up to three pairs of riders got head-to-head on (plastic) horseback around a dipping track, while The Avalanche is an exhilarating free-running bobsleigh simulator.
Rather more gentle is Wallace and Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic, which sees visitors board giant slippers for an animatronic trip through the adventures of the accident-prove inventor and his long-suffering canine companion, which is great fun.
Does Blackpool have it all? Maybe not quite – the British weather put a literal dampener on things at times – but it does have a huge amount to offer any family looking for a break packed with activities.
l Kevin, Rose and Ellie stayed in a family room at the Elgin. Weekend prices based on a family of two adults and two children sharing a room for a weekend this month start at £161 a night. Visit www.elginhotel.com
For details of all activities and events in the town, go to www.VisitBlackpool.com