It has been 24 years since Blackpool Pleasure Beach had a new rollercoaster designed and built at the park.
During that time, 1994’s Big One has remained the park’s signature attraction, visible from far away as you drive into the Lancashire town.
Today marked the launch of Icon, also the first rollercoaster addition at the Pleasure Beach of any kind since 2007’s launch of Infusion.
This is also the first time in many years that the Pleasure Beach has launched a major new ride in the same year of its biggest rival Alton Towers.
Constructed by German manufacturers Mack Rides, Icon has been highly anticipated since its arrival was confirmed by the park two years ago.
Mack rollercoasters tend to be held in high regard by rollercoaster enthusiasts, and by the Pleasure Beach’s managing director Amanda Thompson.
And Thompson’s creative direction of the ride’s polished appearance – it is only very loosely themed – stands out as you approach its home in the centre of the park.
Daggers, and oriental lettering and ornamentation accompany the ride alongside a dramatic soundtrack which is reminiscent of fellow Pleasure Beach ride Valhalla in certain parts.
The ride’s track and structure are painted in tones of grey, remarkably similar to that of the current colour scheme of the park’s Revolution rollercoaster. It is dull but sets a serious tone.
Overall, there has been no real attempt at theming or a concept you might expect from Merlin Entertainments or Disney, and Icon is a ride that should be judged mainly on its physical ride experience.
That said, there are still nice touches of gold, copper and silver across the ride’s 16-seater trains and stylish station. There is class here and the gift shop in particular, with its wide range of Icon-branded merchandise, sees the park confidently take on Merlin and Disney in terms of product offering.
Staff operation of the ride was of good standard on the first day of operation to the park’s general guests – i.e. not the ones that paid £25 or more to ride in preview windows offered earlier this month, including for a time this morning when the ride was – according to staff – off-limits.
Twists and turns
As you board the train, you are secured by lap-bar type restraints, a relative novelty for an inverting rollercoaster in the UK. This design is one of the reasons that Mack’s European rides such as Blue Fire are held in high regard by rollercoaster fans.
Rolling forward, there is some suspense are the first launch powers up and engages the train.
The train is propelled forward into a tunnel of mist at a fairly thrilling rate of acceleration, but it is one of the UK’s weaker rollercoaster launches.
Ascending a sharp upward incline, there is usually a pop of stomach-grabbing airtime wherever you sit on the train as you pass through the Big One’s structure. It is an encouraging start to the ride.
However, a couple of relatively dull banked swooping turns are then traversed before two sharper and more forceful meandering moments.
The inline twist is a welcome first inversion, before even more twists are navigated through and the train descends at fair speed into a small non-uplifting drop leading into the second launch section.
On our early rides, there felt to be very little additional acceleration provided by the second launch, certainly it lacks the thrill of rides that do mid-ride launches well, notably Cheetah Hunt in the United States.
There is a brief – but good – moment of hangtime on the exit of the Immelmann inversion the train is then launched into.
The track then continues its now overly familiar theme of moderate intensity twists and turns, with a couple of small drops that just about grab the stomach.
It is fair to note that there is the occasional forceful twist among what becomes an otherwise almost mundane barrage of meandering that causes considerable vibration bordering roughness in the ride’s trains, particularly towards the back.
And while the interaction with the park’s other rides looks good on photographs, it does not really add to the on-ride experience as you are simply not close enough, and rarely approach anything head-on.
By the time the train hits the brake run, you are left struggling to remember Icon’s exciting moments, even though there are several of them.
Twistiness and small elevation changes can and do work on rollercoasters, but they have to be based in the right environment, and Icon’s lack of dedicated landscaping has reduced potential in this area.
It is not a terrain-0hugging ride, and this reduces the sense of speed. We also found no noticeable improvement in speed or thrill later in the day, as has widely been claimed in the early reviews elsewhere.
At a cost of over £16 million, the Pleasure Beach has probably made a worthwhile investment. Icon certainly enhances the park’s eclectic collection of rides and it fills the obvious gap created by new engineering and technology which has emerged since the Big One’s launch. It will help maintain interest in the park in a difficult market.
Icon will certainly satisfy the young, families and certainly a majority of the park’s visitors, but it also represents a missed opportunity by both the Pleasure Beach and Mack to provide something truly memorable and world class.