As a kid, all of our family holidays took place in the UK – more often than not, in our caravan on some campsite near the seaside. Although we didn’t have much money, we always had fab breaks spending time together as a family. I have some great memories of back then and hope that when she’s older, Toddler L will look back on our holidays with similar nostalgia.
One of the places we used to go the most was Blackpool. I’m not sure if it was annual or every few years, but I certainly have plenty of memories of being there. The excitement of ‘Tower spotting’ from the M55, seeing the illuminations through the open sunroof as we drove down the Promenade or watching people scream for their lives on the Big One.
Despite having fond memories, I can’t remember the last time I went to Blackpool, but it must have been early teens – well, until the other week that was. I received a random email from VisitBlackpool asking us if we’d like to sample the delights of the seaside town. I’ll be honest and no offence is intended, but I wasn’t bowled over. Like a lot of UK seasides, I’d heard that Blackpool had become pretty run down over the years. Was it somewhere I wanted to take the family and potentially ruin my childhood memories?
The more I read though, the more I was enticed. There’s been over £350 million pumped into developing the resort over the last few years in an attempt to return Blackpool to it’s glory days. It also looked a really family-friendly place, particularly with the Blackpool Resort Pass Plus giving us entry to nine top attractions including Blackpool Tower, SEA LIFE, Blackpool Zoo and Madame Tussauds.
Below, you’ll find my review on the toddler-friendly activities we did in Blackpool, along with some thoughts on the new Viva Vegas Diner and our room at Best Western Carlton Hotel. Spoiler Alert: We had a brilliant time and thoroughly enjoyed checking out the seaside town.
The Blackpool Tower Eye And 4D Experience
We decided to head to Blackpool Tower on the Friday morning, assuming that it would be busier on the Saturday (which it was). We managed to walk straight in without queuing, then headed up to the 5th floor. Here, we showed our Blackpool Resort Passes and were allowed to go through to the 4D cinema waiting area. We were here for a few minutes as we waited for the show to finish, picked up our 3D glasses, then went into the cinema once the doors opened.
Inside, there was a big screen and a few ascending rows where you could stand – we took our place and waited. After a few minutes, the film started. As it’s a 4D cinema, this means that you have a full sensory experience. With the help of the 3D glasses, what you’re looking at appears to come out from the screen and right at you. The ‘fourth dimension’ adds the additional sensory elements, including smoke and water.
The film – which lasts about five minutes – brings the history of the Blackpool Tower and surrounding area to life. Describing it obviously isn’t going to be as impressive as watching it, but there’s parts where your back in time watching the Tower being built, other bits where you’re flying up the outside of the Tower and others where you’re zooming across the water. It was really well filmed and enjoyable to watch – there was a lot of nostalgia and it took me back to my childhood.
Unfortunately, Toddler L didn’t really enjoy it which surprised me. It’s quite dark and noisy in there, so I think it was all a bit too much for her. So that’s maybe something to bear in mind if going with younger kids. After the film, we made our way through another area decorated with old photos and newspaper clippings, prior to getting into the lift which would take us up to to the top – now known as the Blackpool Tower Eye.
The lift – complete with guides to give you a bit of info – takes 69 seconds to travel up the 315 feet to the viewpoint. When inside, you get to look out and down via the glass sides to watch your ascent up the steel structure. At the top, you come out of the lift into an enclosed area where you’re immediately greeted with panoramic views of the Irish sea and Blackpool promenade courtesy of glass on the wall and floor. You can then test your nerve – and the strength of the glass – by walking onto it and looking directly down.
As you make your way around the enclosed area, you’re able to get a full 360 degrees view of Blackpool and the North West. We were lucky and had a sunny day, so were able to see for quite a way into the distance. I didn’t know where I was looking, but supposedly you can see up to the Lake District, down to Liverpool and across to the Isle of Man.
We assumed that this enclosed area was it, but we found another staircase which headed further up. This took us up to the second level which was outside – a sign told us we were now 390 feet high. Again, the view was really cool and the fact that we were in the open added an element of danger considering I’m not the greatest fan of heights! We then went up to a much smaller third area which took us to the highest point we could go.
We made our way back down to the enclosed area and waited ten or so minutes for a lift. This gave us one last chance to take in the views prior to returning us to the fifth floor. Having not been up the Tower before, it was nice to actually go up and check out the area from a different viewpoint. I’d definitely recommend going up if you’ve not visited, although I would suggest trying to go at a quiet time so that you can take everything in at your leisure.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach And Nickelodeon Land
We took the tram down to the Pleasure Beach and disembarked directly outside. I remember going to the Pleasure Beach as a kid and just being able to wander around, however it’s different now as you need tickets to get into the theme park. We went to the Booking Office, showed our Blackpool Resort Passes and were given wristbands – these were used to get in and were scanned prior to getting on every ride.
At the entrance, we were told that there were 17 rides which Toddler L could go on, however, for whatever reason, a couple weren’t operating on that day – the main one being Dora’s World Voyage. I was pretty impressed with this – at 90cm, she’s often on the cusp of going on rides at other places, so it was great that there was a large number of rides for her.
The first ride we found was the Alice Ride where we took a trip through the looking glass into Alice’s Wonderland. This was followed by Wallace & Gromit’s Thrill-O-Matic which takes you through scenes from the film. Although Toddler L was allowed on both rides with me, they were both a bit ‘scarier’ than I’d anticipated – for instance, there was plenty of dark bits and strobe lighting.
From here, we headed into Nickelodeon Land which had more of a kid-focus with rides featuring characters such as SpongeBob, Rugrats and Dora. In total, there are 12 rides, all of which a 92cm Toddler L could go on apart from Spongebob Splash Bash and Krusty Krab Order Up.
Despite being a sunny day, there were barely any queues. We managed to get on everything straight away which makes life so much easier with a toddler. We went on Fairy World Taxi Spin first, which was a revolving ride in yellow taxis. This had the added element of being able to press and hold a button which made the taxi go up and down.
After this, we headed over to Rugrats Lost River for Toddler L’s first ever experience of a log flume. Here, we nicely bobbed around for a few minutes as we went around the ride, prior to getting soaked as we went down the drop. Great fun and the sprog loved it.
Next was Bikini Bottom Bus Tour. This is a ride featuring an enclosed ‘bus’ made to look like the ones from SpongeBob, which rotates up and down.
We then went on Blue Flyer, which it turns out is a pretty fast roller coaster! She held me tight as we flew around the track, but seemed to love her first roller coaster experience. Finally, before heading off to find some food, we went on Diego’s Rainforest Rescue, which is a self spinning balloon ride that goes 20 feet into the air.
Toddler L had a blast on each of the rides we went on in Nickelodeon Land. Each of them felt suitable for a three year old and the vibrant colours and characters appealed to her. I, on the other hand, somehow felt a bit sick after going on kid rides! In addition, there were toilets (with baby change), food outlets, shops and other entertainment things, e.g. paid-for ride on bikes, in the area.
We made our way out of Nickelodeon Land in the search of food. We found a Burger King so stopped off for a quick bite, prior to watching the screaming people on The Big One. Luckily, Toddler L was below the height limit which meant that I wasn’t forced onto that ride!
After this, on our way to the exit, we stumbled across the traditional carousel called Gallopers, as well as Grand Prix, where you drive around on a multi-level track. These were two more rides that Toddler L was able to go on.
We were at Blackpool Pleasure Beach for around three hours and could have spent a lot longer there, had it not been for our tight schedule. It also massively helped that it was a Friday during term-time, so we were able to get on rides with barely any queuing. I was really impressed with the number of rides which a 90cm Toddler L was allowed on. I think we did ten in total and there were still plenty more she could have gone on. Then, let’s not forget, all of the bigger kid and adult rides which are at the Pleasure Beach, meaning there’s loads of family fun to be had.
Across from the Pleasure Beach is Sandcastle Waterpark, which again we could go into with the Blackpool Resort Pass. Toddler L loves swimming, so it made sense to visit what is advertised as “the UK’s largest indoor waterpark” – particularly as it had started raining. We went in, showed our passes, were provided with wristbands and a locker key, then headed to the changing room.
Sandcastle Waterpark has over 18 slides and attractions inside – you walk in and are genuinely overwhelmed with how much there is to do. As it was just Toddler L and I – a pregnant missus sat this one out – we obviously had to gravitate towards the more toddler-friendly parts of the water park. This meant staying away from the white knuckle rides like Aztec Falls, Masterblaster and Montazooma which tend to be for kids who are age six upwards.
Despite these being off limits, there was still plenty to do. The first thing Toddler L spotted was HMS Thundersplash – a marooned boat resting on the shores of the water park just as you walk in. Here, Toddler L had fun playing with the ship’s wheel, going down the small slide and exploring the tunnels below.
Just to the left of the boat, we found one of the two large swimming pools – Shimmering Shallows. However, it wasn’t long before we found ourselves being pulled into the Ushi Gushi River – a kind of river rapids where the flowing waters pull you along around a circular route. When stuck in the river, you also need to watch out for ‘surprises’, such as buckets emptying water on your head and mini-waterfalls coming out from the wall. This was great fun and we must have gone around ten or so consecutive times!
Next, we discovered Fort Riptide which looked over the pool and provided a few different slides for kids to go down. We then made our way over to the second large swimming pool called Typhoon Lagoon. This is a pretty calm pool until it’s hit with wave after wave after wave.
We then made our way over to Caribbean Storm Treehouse at the back of Sandcastle Waterpark to explore some of the water play activities over there. Set over three levels, this included things like buckets of water, water cannons, water wheels and a giant tipping coconut which creates a tidal wave. Again, we spent quite a bit of time playing here.
As we left the Treehouse, we found Treetops Water Chutes – three long slides where you can race against each other to the bottom. Of course, I had to curtail my competitive streak to allow Toddler L to win! We then spent the next hour or so going back and repeating everything we’d already done and discovered. It was really good fun and Toddler L loved playing in the water and interacting with the various objects.
A few other things to note. There’s plenty of seating for spectators – both on the ground level and up high. There’s also a few different cafe type places inside where you can grab a drink and have a rest from the watery fun. You can hire towels, but it’s probably best to bring your own and there were plenty of family changing rooms. All in all, it was a great few hours in there and there’s plenty to do for the family.
SEA LIFE Blackpool
On the Saturday morning, we made our way to SEA LIFE Blackpool which is situated on the Promenade. Compared to the Friday when it had been quiet, there were already quite big queues for the attractions – this one included. However, as we had the Blackpool Resort Passes, we were able to go into another line and avoid the queue which went out of the door.
We’ve been to plenty of aquariums before, so wasn’t expecting to see anything that new or different. However, Toddler L quite likes fish and sea creatures, so SEA LIFE is definitely a place we consider for a bit of indoors entertainment. The attraction in Blackpool is said to have over 1,000 aquatic creatures across 50 displays, which started with the rockpool where we got to see – and touch – the likes of crabs and starfish.
We then continued into Atlantic Depths which focuses on the shorelines of the North West with creatures such as plaice, lobster and octopus. Next came Quayside, which displayed some larger fish including rays, pollock and dogfish.
The next area we moved into was Stingray Adventure, which as the name suggests, focused on stingrays. This was a large tank filled with Honeycomb Whiptail Rays, Cownose Rays and Blue Spotted Stingrays in a tropical reef. This was a little bit more interactive as you could explore various tunnels and windows to get up close and personal with the rays.
Toddler L decided to get a shimmy on at this point, so we quickly passed through Kingdom Of The Seahorse (seahorses, among lion fish, unicorn fish and clown fish), Submarine Explorer (jellyfish, puffa fish and eels) and Rainforest Adventure (turtles, piranha and frogs), before stopping at the Ocean Tunnel.
For me, this is the best thing about SEA LIFE – getting to walk through a huge tank and experience what life is like underwater. Within here, we saw plenty of different sea creatures, including black tip sharks, white tip sharks, shovel nose sharks, nurse sharks and the aptly named bowmouth guitar shark.
We made our way through the new Sea Stars exhibit which focuses on starfish, then quickly distracted Toddler L as we passed through the gift shop and soft play area. We could have spent longer at SEA LIFE, but we had to get going so the visit was brief, but still enjoyable.
World Fireworks Championship
Our visit to Blackpool coincided with the annual Fireworks Championships. This has become one of the showcase events held each year in Blackpool and sees the night sky lit up in colour by some of the world’s best pyrotechnic artists. Taking place on each Friday during September, the completely free event features firework performances set to music, with judges then determining the winner at the end of the month.
The 2017 World Fireworks Championships featured teams from Poland, France, South Africa and the UK. On the Friday when we visited, it was France’s turn to wow the crowds. Everyone loves fireworks, so it was no surprise to see the Promenade at it’s busiest. There were families lining the streets to get the best view, all whilst trying to avoid being hit in the face by their kids waving flashing wands.
As they were doing some filming that night, VisitBlackpool had invited us up onto the balcony of the Tourist Information Centre meaning we had probably the best view of everyone on the night. From our elevated position, we were able to look out onto the crowds and over to the North Pier to watch the performance.
One from last night’s awesome Blackpool World Fireworks Championship display from North pier. . . . . . . #ukdadbloggers #ukparentbloggers #bplfireworks #bplfireworks2017 #visitblackpool #blackpool #myfamilyadventures #familyadventure #familyadventures #holidayfun #holidaytime #fireworks #fireworkshow #fireworkdisplay
The performance started just after 8.30pm and lasted for around 10 minutes. It was a great display and Toddler L was glued to it throughout. There was a real buzz and excitement in the air with the illuminations, fireworks and crowds that it really took me back to being a kid in Blackpool. It’s great that that feeling still surrounds Blackpool.
Heritage Illuminated Tram Tour
After the fireworks, we got on a tram and headed down to the Pleasure Beach to get on another tram – only this tram was special! We had tickets (£6 adult, £3 child) for an illuminated tram which would take us up – and down – the full length of the Promenade to check out the six miles and over one million bulbs which make up the Blackpool Illuminations.
As we arrived, an illuminated tram – which looked like a boat – was just setting off, however a fella working there flagged it down and we managed to get on. It was already 9pm ish by this point and way passed Toddler L’s bedtime, so not having to wait around for the next tram was appreciated.
Just like I’d done as a kid, we made our way up the Promenade, checking out all of the different lights. This continued all the way up to the displays on the cliffs at Bispham. The tram then turned around and came back, allowing people to get off at one or two stops.
Although it was great being able to see all the illuminations and avoid traffic, I was a little disappointed in the tour. Not only was the tram full so that we had to sit separately, but I assumed the view would be better. There were normal windows and slightly higher angled windows, but it wasn’t that easy to see the lights – I thought it might be open top or have a glass roof. Also, the main gimmick of the tram is that it’s illuminated – this is great for those looking at it from the outside, but as someone sitting on the inside, it just felt like we were on a normal overcrowded tram.
Viva Vegas Diner
Opening earlier this summer, the newest restaurant in town is Viva Vegas Diner. Situated on the corner opposite the Tourist Information Centre, the diner takes inspiration from American diners – such as Ellen’s Stardust Diner in New York, which we’ve actually eaten at in the past.
We had a reservation, which was a good job because people were being told that there was a 30 to 45 minute wait for a table. So if you’re going, book ahead. We were warmly greeted, then showed to our table. I say table, but it was more like a booth made to look like a Cadillac – very cool.
My first impression of the place was great. It had a real buzz about it and kept getting cooler the more I looked around. This included the likes of flat screen TVs, USA-inspired memorabilia, very friendly staff, and, of course, the awesome-looking food. Toddler L was given crayons and something to colour in – a must for dining with a toddler – and we were left to look at the menu.
There was a really enticing selection of American food available, so much so that it took a while to pick. Whilst we decided, we ordered drinks – I partook in a nice bottle of IPA, a jealous missus had a non-alcoholic beer and Toddler L had a strawberry milkshake.
The menu included a variety of burgers, hot dogs, buttermilk chicken, steak and pancakes. Showing that we’ve been together for too long, the missus and I picked the same – the Hammy Davis Junior hot dog which featured pulled pork on top. We wanted the cheesy mac on the side, but when the food came, we had that and tater tots – not that we were complaining! They had a Diner Mite kid’s menu where you could build your own burger. However, as Toddler L had snacked not too long before, we got her the Mac ‘n’ Cheese Changa and Cowboy Caviar.
It was probably a 20 minute wait for food, which wasn’t too bad. There was a lot to keep us occupied during this time, including performances from some of the waiting staff who picked up microphones and belted out some American classics such as Frank Sinatra.
There was a lot of food when it arrived. It all looked tasty and proved to be so when we tucked in. It was typical American food and the type of stuff we’ve eaten time and time again when we’ve visited the States in the past. The food is far from gourmet, but it’s perfect for when you’re looking to stuff your belly!
We’d been eyeing up the deserts prior to the food arriving, but there was no way we were going to be able to eat anymore. The total bill came to just over £60, which seemed reasonable for the food and drink we’d ordered. As we left out of the other door, we found another bar area, complete with stage for the resident band and an American campervan serving takeaway and snacks to passers by.
We enjoyed our meal and the experience of being at Viva Vegas diner and would definitely go back. It’s great to see a different type of restaurant pop up and try something that bit different.
Best Western Carlton Hotel
We stayed in Blackpool on the Thursday and Friday night at the Best Western Carlton Hotel. This was in a really good location on the seafront, directly outside Pleasant Street tram stop and about one mile up the Promenade from Blackpool Tower. It was easy to find and there were also quite a few spaces in the car park out front, so we didn’t have to worry about finding somewhere to park.
Initial impressions of the hotel were good – the reception area was modern and stylish, we received a friendly welcome on check-in and were provided with all the info we needed for our stay.
Our room was on the third floor – a standard family room with a double bed and a single bed. It was much bigger than expected, had neutral decor and was clean. From the window we could see Blackpool Tower which was a nice bonus, plus it had what we’ve come to expect from a family hotel room – TV with Freeview, drinks tray, hairdryer and toiletries to name a few. The bathroom was big, and although entirely functional, felt a little bit dated and could probably do with some TLC. Despite being next to a road, it wasn’t too noisy and we slept well on both nights.
We had breakfast included as part of our stay. This was situated in the restaurant area of the hotel, which had nice views over the seafront. The breakfast comprised of hot and cold options such as cereal, croissants, toast, fruit, yoghurt, bacon and sausages. The food was OK, but not the best – for instance, the cooked breakfast options were a tad greasy and the croissants were pretty hard.
All in all though, I feel that the Best Western is a good option if looking for somewhere to stay in Blackpool. It’s located close to attractions but far enough away to not feel that busy, plus it’s clean and pretty modern. The breakfast was slightly disappointing, so if we stayed again, we’d probably do a room only rate and get breakfast from somewhere else.
We thoroughly enjoyed our trip to Blackpool and wish we’d have had longer there. Although we had an action-packed, fun-filled 36 hours, we could have easily stayed for another few days and checked out some of the other attractions. Of the things we did, Pleasure Beach / Nickelodeon Land and Sandcastle Waterpark were our favourites, Viva Vegas Diner was good to eat at and it was great that our visit was timed with both the illuminations and the fireworks.
The thing I liked the most was that it felt like Blackpool has really changed perceptions. They’ve retained the old, nostalgia but have modernised with significant investment over the years. This makes it a great option for a UK seaside holiday and I’d definitely see us going back in the near future.
Disclosure: The short break to Blackpool was complimentary and provided to us by VisitBlackpool with the purpose of writing an honest review of our experiences.