Britain's Coney Island (Nathan)

Trip Start Sep 03, 2010
Trip End Oct 27, 2010

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Traveler's Rest

Flag of United Kingdom  , England,
Thursday, September 16, 2010

We started our second day in Blackpool with a visit to Pleasure Beach, the main amusement park on the southern edge of the Promenade. I'd heard that the first ghost train ever created was in Blackpool, and I'd thought it might be Carnesky's, but online research the previous night had shown that it was actually in Pleasure Beach itself. It turned out Pleasure Beach was also home to the world's largest dark ride, Valhalla, so we had plenty of reason to pay the basic 5 pound entrance fee, even though it didn't cover any of the rides (those cost tickets) and several of the main rides were closed due to high winds. The weather was still pretty cold and windy, though the ocean had calmed and the rain had gone.

We started by heading straight for the ghost train. It was a little disappointing at first- the outside looked fairly modern, with a lot of animatronics and fantasy-looking demons instead of old-timey ghosts and witches (they even had Slimer from Ghostbusters, who, to my amusement, had netting across his gaping mouth to keep pigeons from nesting there). However, a sign behind the tracks confirmed that this was indeed the site of the very first ghost train in 1930 (or at least, the park itself was), and it was hardly surprising that it had been renovated since then. And despite the newness of it, it still seemed somehow creaky and old and run-down, and I was looking forward to riding it. Glennica and I each paid our two tickets, squeezed into a goblin-faced car together, and were off on our terrifying journey.

Unfortunately, I didn't have the foresight to capture a video (which is probably just as well, considering how incredibly long they take to upload), but I will say it's everything I dreamed it would be and more. Obviously the insides had been updated since the 1930s as well, but if they'd had florescent paint back then, it would be hard to tell. The first thing we saw after our car knocked open the doors into the ride was a glowing green skull flying towards us, very slowly and wobbling on visible wires, from a flat picture of two skeletons while a stock sound effect scream played. Everything looked like a bad special effect from an Ed Wood movie. Coffins creaked open as we drove by, too late for us to see what was inside. A loud horn above a static painting of a devil's face honked as we approached. The top half of a painting of a ghost lurched very slightly towards us as we heard a muffled groan. Three glowing skeletons on neon orange-painted bicycles rode in a circle. One room was nothing but a motionless skeleton on the wall and some pieces from string dangling from the ceiling that brushed your face as you went by. It was the least scary thing I've ever seen, but it was like going back in time... I can just imagine a 1930s couple going on this ride during their date at Blackpool, and marveling at the amazing new special effects... or maybe finding them just as hilarious as we did. Either way, they would have had a great time, and so did we.

The next ride we went on was much more modern, and the largest dark ride in the world- Valhalla! As we approached, Glennica brought up the signs offering to sell rain ponchos for a pound fifty, and I reluctantly admitted that I'd read that you get wet on this ride while I was looking it up on Wikipedia... but I thought it was just a few splashes, and the rain ponchos were for wimps- the kind of people who run like they're on fire when it starts raining. Well, it was pretty obvious that I was mistaken when we reached the front of the line and saw them vacuuming the water out of the longboats. It was too late to get ponchos now, and there was no chance we were going to pay an outrageous 3 pounds anyway, so we got in the boat, feeling the water slosh around our soles. I devised an ingenious plan, using my park map to shield my pants from water, and after an inexplicable wait of around 15 minutes, we finally started moving- right towards a roaring waterfall across the entrance to a tunnel. This was pretty cheap, we thought- they just soak you right at the beginning! But as we started to plunge into the wall of water, it shut off, and we only got a few drips. Much to my amusement, I had to poke Glennica, who was still huddled up with her eyes closed in anticipation of getting drenched. Riding past two enormous ravens with glowing red eyes, we were carried up a long dark tunnel, and a projected face glowered down at us, transforming from a skull into a viking warrior before bellowing "ENTER VALHALLA!" in the most awesome voice ever. It's hard to describe the rest... at one point we were going backwards, there was a frigid room with what looked like zombie valkyries and what I'm almost certain was real snow and ice, 80-foot drops through a series of waterfalls (which really DID get us soaked this time), I think Loki was in there somewhere, fog billowed, thunder crashed, and at the end we were surrounded by searing blasts of flame. It was totally worth 6 tickets. By the time the ride was finished, we were ankle-deep in water and my map was just a few soggy shreds in each hand. We'd gotten pretty wet, and decided to pay a pound to use the people dryer in the gift shop, which bathed us in heat lamps and fans for a couple minutes- a much better deal than the 3 pounds to buy ponchos.

Most of our remaining time at Pleasure Beach was spent wandering around and looking at the rides- we hadn't spent the money on an unlimited rides pass, which was quite expensive, many of the rides were closed because of the weather, and we had limited time, as we had an appointment to get back to our B&B to have a video chat with Sierra. One ride in particular that looked like it would have been fun was the Steeplechase- sort of a combination of a carousel and roller coaster, where you rode on a horse. The Big One, which was closed because of the wind, was just about the tallest coaster I'd ever seen, and most of the rest was for little kids; Pleasure Beach actually wasn't a very big park. There was one more that we saw on the way out, though, and after looking at the sign I just had to ride it. Around the world in 80 days! See the temples of Angkor Wat, the wonders of ancient Egypt, and the depths of the ocean! How could I pass up that? This looked like a really old-school dark ride... the front was decorated with random adventurey stuff (and some that looked like it was just left over from other rides), the line had these awesome dioramas with wooden dinosaurs moving their jaws and ancient Egyptians farming, and the entrance still said "Tunnel of Love"- they hadn't even bothered to take the sign down when they changed the ride! This ride was just as good as the other two, and may even be my favorite... it was like they turned a natural history museum into a ride. I really can't even describe this one, except to say that if I were truly rich the very first thing I would do is buy this ride and preserve it forever. Glennica hated it.

After that we left Pleasure Beach and visited the South Pier, where we'd seen another ghost train the previous day. Unfortunately, it and all the other rides were still closed, either because of the weather or just because it was the off season. We did see another arcade, though, which had an almost exact duplicate of the shooting gallery we'd enjoyed the previous day. It was like an alternate universe version... the dummies had different clothes, the bottles said "grog" instead of "hooch", the sign had different cars on it but was otherwise identical... this is probably boring for everyone else, but I really like alternate universe versions of things. We also found Silent Hill: The Arcade Game, which of course I had to play. I didn't think the solemn atmosphere of Silent Hill would translate well to an arcade shoot 'em up, and it kind of didn't, but they made a real effort. The voice acting was horrible and it felt weird to be frantically blasting away huge hordes of monsters in a Silent Hill game, but they tried to have a plot (involving a lost riverboat), there were cutscenes every couple minutes, and it actually managed to be a little scary when we were being chased by Pyramid Head and desperately firing just to delay him long enough to escape. It also wasn't designed to make you lose and take your money as quickly as possible- the difficulty ramped up slowly and we got in a good ten or twelve minutes of gameplay before game over.

We went back to the B&B and had our video chat with Sierra... or tried to. The best we got was a few seconds of video and her voice, broken and robotic, asking if we could hear her. The Traveler's Rest's horrible internet connection just wasn't up to the job.

Afterwards we paid a visit to Coral Island, which had another ghost train that had been closed the previous day... and still was. We were told it would be open tomorrow. Glennica wanted to go on a ride that was on a track above the casino floor, and I reluctantly agreed... well, it turned out to be quite good. The view from up there was pretty interesting, and it turned out that this was another dark ride halfway through, with a piratey cave full of treasure, skeletons and sea shanties. There were also a multitude of sparkling targets you were supposed to be able to shoot for points, but our pistols didn't work, so we missed out on that aspect of it. Down the street a block or two was miniature golf- also pirate-themed, though it wasn't a part of Coral Island. It was actually really disappointing. There were barrels and skeletons and driftwood everywhere, but nothing moved or made any sound (not even an "arrr" when you made the final putt), and the courses were fairly straightforward. It was also only 12 holes instead of 18, but we were pretty sick of it by that point anyway. We tied with a score of 48 each. We suck at golf.

The rest of the night was spent exploring the north end of the Promenade, which was basically more of the same- more identical shops full of crappy knick-knacks and novelty items, more "rock" shaped like penises (Blackpool is very popular for stag and hen parties, so cheesy adult stuff is common), more stands selling nothing but doughnuts, burgers, and fish and chips. We had a mediocre dinner at Harry Ramsden's, kind of a British Denny's, and went to bed early to catch our train the next morning.
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