Is the walk-on amusement park format under threat?


During the mid-1990s, Blackpool Pleasure Beach could easily see a quarter of a million pounds in daily takings, and extend opening into the early hours as a result.

As made famous during the BBC documentary during the same period, this success was achieved by a model of getting as many people through the gates – and crucially, on the rides themselves – as possible.

The free, walk-on admission with a pay-per-ride format provided a constant driver for high ride reliability, throughput of riders and – when the demand dictated – opening hours’ extensions.

Rides running into the night and the associated heightened atmosphere of the seaside amusement park after dark were commonplace.

But walk-on admission was ended in the mid 2000s, and ride wristbands largely took over from the pay-per-ride model.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s opening hours then shrank, and ride availability seemed to be of less priority to operations, perhaps for obvious reasons.

This year, originally attributed to COVID-19 restrictions, Great Yarmouth’s own Pleasure Beach has introduced three, three-hour time slots per day where everyone must may to enter the park, but gets unlimited rides.

Roller Coaster, Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach
The Roller Coaster at Great Yarmouth Pleasure Beach

The Norfolk park’s century-plus-long model of walk-on access came to an end. The new system remains in place despite the ending of legal restrictions around social distancing and associated capacity restrictions.

It remains to be seen whether or not Great Yarmouth’s biggest attraction will revert back to its old model of allowing anyone to turn up and experience the park and pay on a ride-by-ride basis.

The concept of pre-booked wristbands for all undoubtedly helps any park’s managers predict how busy a day will be and plan accordingly, but whether or not it will be financially preferable here every season isn’t clear yet.

There have undoubtedly been some visitors irritated after turning up to discover that they have to pay more than £13 to enter even if non-riding parents, or that they can’t enter at all due to capacity being reached.


Ten years ago, Fantasy Island in Ingoldmells would regularly extend its ride times to 10 pm during peak summer days, but such occasions are now scarce.

The Lincolnshire park remains a free, walk-on attraction, however. The same remains at Adventure Island in Southend, but opening times at the Essex park are regularly set at 10 pm by default.

For the UK at least, Adventure Island is effectively the last bastion of walk-on access combined with regular late-night riding.

But as was seen at the Southend attraction on Friday, open-access can potentially have its downfalls in terms of security.

Scuffles involving dozens of people were reported, with two police officers receiving injuries according to various media reports over the weekend.

Of course it is possible to have such incidents occur in a park where everyone has paid to enter, but if alcohol or weapons are ever in the mix then perhaps walk-on policies can legitimately be questioned.

Rage, Adventure Island
Rage rollercoaster at Adventure Island

Security was cited as one of the key factors behind Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s decision to end the free walk-on admission policy, but the park offers an access-only pass for a modest fee for those not wanting to ride.

And away from the permanent parks, London’s Winter Wonderland will this year charge for and require pre-booked admission for the first time.

Pre-booking is required to access the Hyde Park fairground at any time, but the process is free during off-peak periods.

Nottingham Goose Fair was considering a similar policy, which might have seen a perimeter fence around the event for the first time in its multi-century history. The fair was later cancelled for the second year running due to coronavirus.

Fortunately, there has never been a major terrorist incident at an amusement park or fairground in the UK, but the potential for this will always be in organisers’ minds.

The security of being able to control visitor numbers due to COVID-19 also appears to be appealing to organisers as they look to satisfy the authorities that they are acting responsibly.


Perhaps the loss of spontaneity is a price worth paying for security, but many may disagree.

In recent years, the lack of after-dark riding has at least been acknowledged. Several Saturday’s across Blackpool Pleasure Beach’s season have seen the park extend its hours to 10 pm – this year more than ever.

Fridays in September are also scheduled to see closing times of 9:30 pm for the first time in years. It seems that late-night riding is back, and possibly even now growing.

The coronavirus crisis has forced many theme and amusement parks to re-think their strategy during the past 18 months.

And while a reversion to walk-on admission by those parks which have ended it seems unlikely, there have at least been moves by some parks to open later into the night.

But whether or not we will continue to see free, spontaneous, walk-on admission being ended at park after park is another question.