Merlin reinventing the wheel at Blackpool

It’s been just over a month since Merlin Entertainments opened the the latest of their new attractions at and around the Blackpool Tower.

The impressive itinerary contains a Dungeon attraction, Madame Tussauds waxworks and ‘Eye’ observation platform with 4D cinema experience.

Merlin have also taken on the existing Ballroom and Jungle Jim’s children’s play area. They already had a presence in Blackpool with their long-established Sea Life Centre.

The local council (who appointed Merlin to bring new life to the tower) are determined reclaim the town’s family-orientated image and distance itself from being seen as the stag night capital of Britain.

Visiting yesterday, we assess how Merlin have successfully transformed and refreshed one of Britain’s most iconic landmarks.

Madame Tussauds

This attraction has been open since Easter, and features a striking facade of celebrities overlooking the town’s promenade.

Many of the exhibits are feature famous individuals from within and local to Lancashire – Coronation Street, The Beatles, Morecambe and Wise, Steven Gerrard and Ricky Hatton are all represented.

We were slightly puzzled by the absence of Ken Barlow from the Rovers Return, especially as the figure was only unveiled recently.

The Susan Boyle figure was also missing, but we understand that she is ‘on tour’ as Merlin are displaying some figures in shopping centres around the world, as they look to test the water for and expand the Madame Tussauds brand.

As in London and around the world, the quality of the figures is extremely high and they make for great photo opportunities.

Interactivity is encouraged by the staff, it’s certainly not a ‘do not touch’ museum.

It is home to an impressive collection of figures, but it does feel new and somewhat sparse in places – hopefully the number of figures will be increased in future.

Theming touches a great, with the Rovers Return setting featuring slot machines, bar stools and a behind-the-bar photo opportunity with Bet Lynch.

It also feels like a London-lite in that it lacks the additional attractions such as the 4D cinema, dark ride and walk through scare zone – but the entry cost is significantly lower at £14.40.

Tower Dungeon

It’s always great to enter a newly-opened ride or attraction that features heavy theming, as you get to see everything looking fresh and in this case the actors are extremely enthusiastic just a few weeks into their jobs.

The Dungeon is located on the street behind the main promenade, but its entrance is particularly striking – featuring flame torches and a huge grim reaper figure overlooking the doorway.

A ride in a lift takes the visitor to scenes depicting tales of ghosts and the plague – this and much of the other content is similar to the other Dungeons in London, York, and Edinburgh.

But as previously mentioned, the actors seem to be throwing that little bit extra into their performances, and the torturer and judge in the chamber and court room scenes were particularly engaging with our group.

Local history is acknowledged Skippool Smugglers and Pendle Witches – but the latter scene was somewhat disappointing as it featured only a hanged witch bizarrely talking on a projector screen.

The finale is a London and Edinburgh-style Extremis drop ride. This one is slightly smaller in capacity and height than London and it appeared to lack the punch of the one in the capital, but is still effective at startling – as the on ride photos clearly demonstrate.

The Dungeon is an example of the exquisite level of theming Merling are capable of at their attractions – but it only serves to remind us that they are capable of great sloth, as demonstrated with the Thirteen indoor section at Alton Towers last year.

Entry is charged at £14.40 on the day.

Eye and 4D Cinema Experience

Although they inherited the London Eye ferris wheel, Merlin are keen to push out the ‘Eye’ brand to observation decks on the top of towers – and they have done so here in Blackpool (and will soon be doing in Weymouth and Sydney).

The 4D cinema experience that precedes the lift to the top of the tower is quite breathtaking.

Backed to the sounds of Kylie Minogue’s ‘All the Lovers’, we are taken on a seagull’s flight through Blackpool – across the sea to the Isle of Man, over the moors and along the beach.

The effects of smell (including the unfortunate scene of a donkey’s behind), water spray, bubbles, wind and vibration are all perfectly timed to immerse the senses during the several-minute film. It easily rivals that of its equivalent in London.

The trip up to the observation platform takes place in one of two small lifts, which we would imagine may struggle to cope with capacity at busier times.

As you step out of the lift and realise how high you are up, it is difficult to not have your really taken away as you move onto the glass floor and see the 450 feet to the pavement directly beneath your shoes.

There are excellent views out across the Irish Sea, and the Isle of Man is visible on a clear day, Pleasure Beach is to the south, but from this height and distance, even the Big One appears insignificant.

The glass floor is unfortunately looking tarnished after only five weeks of use. It should have perhaps been made form scratch resistant glass and be cleaned daily. The effect would be greatly improved with crystal clear views of the road beneath.

The paid binoculars (£1) and video footage machine (£3) are not welcome, but at £12 it is good value for the observation deck and the 4D film.

Last admission is currently at 9:30pm while the promenade illuminations run, enabling a spectacular night time view across the golden mile.

You can see more of our photographs from the Madame Tussauds and the Eye on our Facebook page.