Blackpool takes centre stage on Strictly Come Dancing this weekend and, as Liz Coggins discovered, the famous seaside resort is very much on the up.
Kiss-me-quick-hats, candy floss, tacky sideshows and guest houses run by archetypal seaside landladies once described Blackpool.
But after a massive multi-million regeneration programme that’s still going on, that description couldn’t be further from the truth as the town takes its rightful place among the best traditional seaside resorts.
The run-down Golden Mile has been given an extreme facelift and next year the resort’s first five-star hotel opens on the promenade with another stylish four-star hotel opening near the Pleasure Beach.
With a history that dates back to the 18th century, when it welcomed its first visitors, the town has always had its quiet, interesting areas away from the day tripper hub, buildings with grand historical architecture and a traditional cultural side. For decades I walked up the South Promenade to Starr Gate and even at the busiest times there were few people around and it’s the same today.
Our hotel, The Carousel, a three-star hotel, overlooked the New South Promenade. A friendly family hotel, set in a crescent, it serves excellent food throughout the day in its bistro-style restaurant. Its terrace is ideal for relaxing: it’s so tranquil with only the occasional rumble of the trams – and trams, after all, are the best way to see Blackpool.
One of the oldest electric tramways in the world dating back to 1885, it runs 11 miles from Starr Gate to Fleetwood Ferry and buying a multi-journey ticket from a day to 30 days saves time and money.
Wherever you are in Blackpool, the Tower, opened in 1894, dominates the skyline. Ascending to the top is quick and painless and well worth it to see the view, although I did find the glass viewing platform floor a little daunting, watching people moving around 380 feet below.
Synonymous with the Tower are the thrills and jaw-dropping acts of its circus.
The décor in this beautiful 124-year-old Victorian auditorium, designed by architect Frank Matcham, is stunning and it’s the only circus in the world to have a water feature finale.
Afternoon tea in the Tower Ballroom is a must: even if you don’t dance, you can just watch the world dance by. Elegant and absolutely stunning, it attracts visitors from all over the world and has become the focal point of the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing every year. When the famous Wurlitzer rose from the floor, I stopped eating my delicious afternoon tea. I had to get on that floor and dance. With a partner who doesn’t dance, I had to borrow the lady on the next table’s husband (luckily, an avid ballroom dancer) and took to the floor quick-stepping around the ballroom as if I was on Strictly.
It’s well worth thinking about getting the Blackpool Big Ticket that includes admission to the Tower and its attractions plus Madame Tussauds and Sea Life.
Blackpool has upped its game on the dining scene with a plethora of new restaurants on the prom. If you want upmarket fish and chips, Harry Ramsden’s is the place to go. It’s quirky, well planned with booths, island type seating areas and a continuing LED wall with nostalgic silent film clips.
From Ramsden’s, it’s a short stroll to the North Pier, the only one of the three piers designated a Grade II listed building.
Opened in 1863 and now privately owned, it has a vintage atmosphere. The longest of the three piers, it has a two tier Venetian carousel, ice cream parlour and Victorian tea shop well worth experiencing. The North Pier Theatre is one of few including the Winter Gardens and the Opera House where in summer seasons past top stars came out at night to entertain. Today, these historic venues host touring musicals, opera, ballet, drama and concerts since the demise of seaside variety. Blackpool has a rich history and if you want to discover a different side of the town take one of the tours or, if you fancy a piece of moving history, there are heritage tram tours.
Rides of a different kind can be found in the Pleasure Beach. Sir Hiram Maxim’s Flying Machine has been operating since 1904, The Grand National, one of only three Mobius Loop Coasters, appeared in 1926, the white art deco Casino building in 1936 and just launched, but not for the faint-hearted is ICON, the UK’s first ever double launch roller coaster.
The Pleasure Beach is not all rides – it even boasts a Champagne and Oyster Bar and is home to The Hot Ice Show, one of the most spectacular ice shows in the world.
The wonderful thing about Blackpool is you can soak up culture and history one moment, take a white knuckle ride the next, or even get hitched in the seafront wedding chapel. That’s what will always make Blackpool the capital of fun.
The Visit Blackpool Site (www.visitblackpool.com) is a very comprehensive site with details of accommodation, transport links, events, entertainment, passes etc.
The Blackpool Big Ticket details www.theblackpooltower.com
Blackpool Heritage Tours and Tram Tours (www.blackpoolheritage.com)
The Carousel Hotel (www.carouselhotel.co.uk)
Blackpool Transport Saver Tickets (www.blackpooltransport.com)