Updated: Jul 28
It might sound impossible in 2020, but our favourite UK amusement park, Pleasure Beach in Blackpool reopened three weeks ago, after implementing some clever changes to keep their guests safe. Take a look at their offical COVID-19 policy here.
Tom and I visited #Blackpool at the weekend to enjoy a romantic stay at the Boulevard Hotel at the Pleasure Beach. We're not obliged to say this (as it wasn't a gifted or review stay) but honestly, as British five star hotels go, the Boulevard is the most gorgeous, opulent and stylish - it would stand out if it were anywhere in the country. You must give it a go.
During the weekend, we were provided with Pleasure Beach eTickets, to venture into the park and find out how their COVID-19 safety measures are working.
On Saturday morning, before our trip into the park, Pleasure Beach's Director of Marketing and PR, Robert Owen met with us for a chat about their new safety measures, over a coffee and Belgian chocolate of course.
We asked Robert what visible changes we could expect to see:
"The biggest change you'll notice as you walk around the park is social distancing and increased hygiene measures. We've capped the park's capacity, and to keep groups a safe distance from each other we've implemented temporary, longer queue lines to allow guests to socially distance safely."
And what about hygiene? How are Pleasure Beach preventing contamination from surfaces on rides?
"The rides are thoroughly cleaned throughout the day. You'll notice brief periods of ride closure while the team disinfect the seats and restraints. Additionally, you'll find hand sanitiser units all over the park, at the entrances of every ride, shop, restaurant and washroom."
Robert also introduced us to their new online 'Visitor Portal' which provides a convenient place for your eTicket, contactless food ordering and queue times. The link to your Visitor Portal arrives via email prior to your visit.
So - with all that in mind, how did Tom and I get on at Pleasure Beach?
We entered the park through a wider, temporary entrance with a single flow of traffic toward the ticket office. Masks and pre-booked eTickets were mandatory - my first mask experience - very fiddly to put on for the first time! While fiddling with my mask I inadvertently went completely the wrong way but a colleague put me back in the right direction - to rolled eyes and a sigh from Tom, waiting impatiently beyond the turn-style. A quick security check, eTicket scanned at the turn-style and I was in. The new eTicket prevents unnecessary queuing and contact at the entrance and improves security and efficiency - it's a simple scan of the code and you're in.
After a quick coffee-break beneath the huge flying ride in the entrance plaza, Tom and I wandered the whole park in a big loop, to see what changes we could see. Generally people were well spaced-out and moving in the right direction which was a relief because it was a relatively busy day for Pleasure Beach. Most paths and public areas were wide and clear.
We could see there may be a few social-distancing issues where guests stop to look at something around them (as you tend to when surrounded by enormous rides), or their children perhaps dash off in the wrong direction - holding up the flow of people behind. But, this kind of thing only happened a couple of times and guests were generally patient and spatially aware.
We identified a couple of 'bottleneck' areas, for example the space between Grand Prix and the pub where parents like to pause with a beer or coffee to watch their kids drive past (we have absolutely stopped for a beer there too on previous visits so we're not judging). Also the dining area around The Big Dipper and Infusion entrance was quite busy at lunch time. But, even at its busiest there was space to move around people without getting too close.
Masks only became mandatory last week, so it was quite a surprise to see so many masked people. Also I should mention I had (emphasis on the past-tense) a phobia of masks and elastic so the idea of wearing a mask for the whole day was quite daunting for me. But after just a short while, seeing all the families, mums, dads, grandmas, grandpas and kids wearing masks in the park it quickly became quite a familiar sight.
During our trip, we noticed most people were following Pleasure Beach's mask guidelines. We even witnessed the occasional polite intervention by a colleague or security officer when somebody wasn't wearing their mask inside a ride station or shop.
But, and this is not Pleasure Beach's fault, there was a proportion of guests (we'd say maybe 25% or more) wearing their mask incorrectly; beneath their nose, over their chin, or even over their forehead in a couple of 'point and giggle' moments. One lady even had the top seam of her mask inside her mouth like a blankey. I guess some people are beyond saving! Perhaps our government have mistakenly assumed everybody will know how to wear a mask - even though its shape should provide a huge clue. Anyway, that's not for now.
Around the outdoor spaces, masks were optional but most people were wearing them anyway. There were several signs around the park which said "Mask on now" or similar at the entrance of shops, restaurants and indoor pathways. We didn't think Pleasure Beach could have done more, really - very good.
Queue lines and ride capacity
Rides have been individually risk-assessed to optimise capacity while maintaining a safe distance between passengers. On some rides (ICON, for instance), trains could be filled because seats are sufficiently well-spaced, but others - particularly older, wooden rides were arranged with an empty row or two after each pair of guests.
Robert Owen mentioned the queue lines had been altered with temporary fencing to allow more space for guests to distance themselves from other groups. This meant queues looked deceptively long and some ordinary paths were closed to allow space for queuing guests.
We thought it had been very well thought out and had only a slight impact on the park's aesthetics and layout. I guess The Big One's queue line looked comparatively the most different, with temporary 'snaking' fences consuming the forecourt in front of its station. But, even at the park's busiest, the queues didn't reach capacity on any of the rides during our visit.
Unfortunately, despite all the signs and examples of exemplary behaviour, you can't educate everybody or expect everyone to follow the rules. We observed social distancing working well most of the time - with the exception of some large groups of teenagers who seem to have very little spatial awareness or care. They'd pull down their masks to speak, stand very close to the people in front of them and huddle in groups. Generally those groups (idiots, Tom would say) were fairly easy to identify and avoid. We quickly found our way around without getting close to anybody else.
Restaurants and shops
In the afternoon, Tom and I paused for a rest at the contemporary cafe overlooking the park's flagship rollercoaster, ICON. There was a colleague at the entrance to welcome us. She took some basic 'track and trace' information, reminded us to keep our masks on indoors (unless we're eating or drinking) and pointed out the locations of the hand sanitiser unit and toilets. A fantastic start.
The bar was partly protected by an acrylic screen. I placed our order and paid using contactless payment.
At this point, I must mention value for money at Pleasure Beach. We haven't been to any kind of pub or cafe for almost six months and we're now far too familiar with supermarket prices for food and drink. So, we expected the worst - especially given this cafe was quite stylish. But, two large premium beers and two packets of crisps set us back less than £10. I was very pleasantly surprised. In fact, food and drink is consistently good value wherever you are in Pleasure Beach - even in the posh hotel bars and restaurants are reasonable.
Anyway, back to the ICON cafe, Tom found a table out on the terrace. Tables were spotlessly clean and spread out with a good few meters between them. On delivering the enviable tray of cold, fizzy beers and crisps to Tom, I said "You'll never guess how much these just cost...?!" triggering an increasingly annoying (for Tom) game of high or lower, starting at £20!
Rides and Speedy Pass
The rides at Pleasure Beach were all open as normal. As mentioned, a couple of the rides were running at a reduced capacity to ensure plenty of space between passengers, but this didn't seem to effect the queue time or efficiency too drastically. The longest queues (ICON, The Big One, Infusion) were 45 minutes or less.
In the afternoon, we were provided with a pair of mobile Speedy Passes to try out, cutting the queue for a selection of rides down to just a few minutes. In essence, the Speedy Pass app does the queuing for you, providing a handy notification when it's your turn to board the ride. You select the ride, it tells you the queue time and you do something else while you wait for your turn. The Speedy Pass also further improved social distancing as we were able to use a separate pathway to access the ride stations. There are various Speedy Pass options, from £15 per person.
We visited Pleasure Beach on its busiest day so far this year and despite this they did a marvellous job with their new rules and policies to keep guests safe. Pleasure Beach was as well presented as ever; clean, well maintained and well organised. Colleagues and security staff were very well versed in the new rules and they weren't afraid to politely intervene if guests made a mistake.
It was surprisingly busy so we did have to be conscientious about personal space as we navigated the park. But, the majority of guests complied with social distancing, masks and hygiene. There were moments of confusion, perhaps where paths had been moved or repurposed, but guests were pointing each other into the right direction - there was certainly an element of team-spirit which was great to see. But, like in all walks of life, there were a proportion of careless people who didn't seem to understand the rules or even why they were in place.
Our advice? Don't let the careless few spoil it for you. If you are nervous about busy places, we would recommend a trip to Pleasure Beach on a typically quiet day - perhaps when the weather's a little unpredictable, a Sunday or mid-week.
If you're interested in a trip to Pleasure Beach, book online via their website here.
Disclaimer time | Pleasure Beach eTickets and Speedy Passes were provided to enable us to carry out this review. As always, the opinions expressed in our reviews are impartial and honest. We'd like to say a huge thank you to Robert and the whole Pleasure Beach team for their hard work and effort during this difficult time x
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