The Blackpool Tower "Experience"

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Blackpool Tower Title

Sometimes, you just run out of excuses. It's a fact of life that you can only put of some things for so long, then you eventually have to suck it up and actually face the truth. As abhorrent as it may be to you, the inevitable will catch up with you; you're going to have to go to Blackpool.

Two hours driving, an hour looking for parking and a jaunt through the drunks and homeless that make up Blackpool town centre for a trip up a 400 foot tall monumental French rip-off. Followed then by a hearty three hour traffic jam, reminiscent; though slightly less enjoyable than the M25 on Friday night - all to see some generally naff lights.

On Friday, my excuses ran out. No more "we'll wait until the lights are on", no "I've got to work" and I've realistically run out of family members Madame_Furie knew nothing about who have died and awkwardly have their funerals the day she wanted to go up North; she's credulous as hell, but after ten Grandfathers, it's not washing any more.

You may have gathered, I was looking forward to this trip. I especially like the concept of "leaving after Minor_Furie's guitar lesson". That finishes at 11:30 a.m. - chances of us getting on the road by lunch time are slightly lower than the chances of David Cameron being warm blooded :P

This trip report needs a random rubber dragon. Enjoy, it's the best bit:
Everyone needs a random rubber dragon - modelled here beautifully by Minor_Furie

We arrive at Blackpool at the shocking time of 3:00 p.m. It's not even dark yet, a first for the Family_Furie! We manage to find a parking space by 3:20 p.m. which isn't too bad, though the piss streaked multi-story is like a location from 'Prince of Darkness', filled with hobos and demon infested Alice Cooper look-a-likes - and that's just us after two hours in the car together.

The alcoholic obstacle assault course (Blackpool town centre) takes us about ten minutes and we're mostly unscathed by the experience - though the psychological trauma may remain for some time. It's busy, not "I can't answer the phone now, I'm busy" busy, but proper "Thorpe Park weekend Fright Nights busy" only more Northern and considerably scarier.

There's a 20 minute queue at the Tower entrance, full of gnarling, gnashing, gnomics gnawing nastily. We approach the fake smile attired young lady whose job appear to be only to counterpoint the ugly appearance of the "guests". I say guests, but I'm starting to get a feeling I've seen this kind of thing before on something filmed to encourage people to become vegetarians. The cattle are lured into endless pens with the promise of something tasty and fulfilling, only to be ruthlessly tagged and shot through the brain when they least expect it - but more of that later.

Little Miss Sunshine ably assists us with out query "where do we queue if we have annual passes?". She points at "that tall bloke there" (I considered taking her to task under some for of trade descriptions as, even stood on a pedestal behind a desk he was shorter than me). Under orders to skip the queue and exchange our magical passes for magical tickets (they don't trade cows for magical tickets, I offered Madame_Furie (patience at this endeavour already wearing very thin) - they wouldn't accept). In doing so, we clashed with a group of troglodytes who had also been directed towards "that tall bloke there". The grease laden semi-humans had been queueing and looked most unhappy at out usurpation of their audience with the tall bloke (there). After a brief visual measure of craniums, they decided we should probably go first, clearly being genetically superior.

(that) Tall bloke (there) offered us tickets for "The Blackpool Eye" and tickets for "Jungle Jim's playbarn and 'please, for God's sake take these kids away from me while I sit and drown my sorrows in a bottle of bourbon' snack bar". Tickets valid in 1 hour and 15 minutes time. Available Merlin sanctioned fun limited to 23 minutes (ex-VAT), late comers will have 5 minutes of fun removed for each minute they are late to their allotted Jungle Jim start time and extra minutes of fun will be charged at a rate of £5.65 (ex-VAT) per five minutes, though you can buy an online bundle of fun for the bargain price of £3..82 (ex-VAT) per hour. Total fun time (inc-VAT and charges can be no more than 60 minutes).

There were no tickets available for the circus - thank :xcensoredx: for that!

We also chose to avoid the dungeons, because I wanted to get the hell out of the place as soon as I could.

Magic tickets in hand, we wandered vaguely in the direction nobody was willing to point us in and around into "The Merlin Blackpool Tower Experience" proper. No, Maxi-Minor_Furie, it's the Blackpool Tower, not the The Tower of London.

It's been a while since we had a break, so concentration may be waning, have an image:
Frozen Blue-Bols blobs litter the streets of Blackpool

Our first experience of the experience is the queue. There's a twenty minute queue of parents forced to "park their buggies". Thankfully this is the second 20 minute queue we have managed to skip. The unclean masses in this queue look less than pleased mind, it's the "family day out" equivalent of getting a loaf of bread in 1990's Russia.

Beyond the queue is the fist tug on your wallet. An arcade and MB Leisure stalls. Fortunately I've perfected the art of making my way through these Merlin wallet traps, and as we're up North, the acceptable format (more later) is ":xcensoredx: off, you're not getting any of my money". This can be used to both staff and children.

We now enter the Tower area proper. The lower floor was once a tasteful entrance, slightly mature but a great reminder of a bygone age. Now it's plasterboard, crap logos, adverts for ways your heavy wallet could be lightened and a complete absence of any useful information in the slightest. There's a queue up to the next floor which, like good English folk, we join. After 20 minutes (I am now of the opinion that Merlin have an officially sanctioned queue time of 20 minutes, no more, no less) we reach the next floor to discover the queue was for those unlucky enough to have circus tickets. I am, of course, exceptionally happy about this, but at least we can go to the toilets now.

These are cunningly hidden beyond the food and bar area. Usually the sight of people enjoying food and drink would be uplifting and encourage you to partake too (hence the toilets being through that section is a good idea). However, the po-faced, morose clientèle are hardly inspiring. Little did I realise then that they were doing their British best to rise out of the pits of depression.

Again, unsurprisingly cunningly, the toilets are in full view of the £9 per child "we'll call it Jungle Jims, but it's a pub and playbarn really" play area. The (only, unless you go to the Eye) toilet entrances are surrounded by whining brats wanting to play now (yes, my own whining brat included), or wanting to know why their parents won't re-mortgage to allow them their Merlin allotted amount of fun for the day. Out of sight, out of mind is not an expression Merlin have ever heard of.

Urine positively extracted, we head to the "Blackpool Eye". Well, we hope that's where we're headed, a complete lack of sign-age hinders us mildly. So we head for the nearest 20 minute queue as it seems like the most likely candidate. As we approach the obligatory "we don't care if it holds people up for 20 minutes, it's important that we grab every last penny from you" photo shoot, our worst fears are confirmed, this is indeed the way to the Blackpool Eye. Obligatory photo is taken and the ticket promptly deposited in a bag, a temporary holding place until a suitable metal repository can be found. Beyond the photo area is... A 20 minute queue.

Morale is still quite high at this moment, there has only been 40 minutes of queueing so far

At least we now have stylish glasses to darken the surroundings to match our mood. The queue ends in a large room. In here we are herded so close together I was jealous of battery farmed chickens - at this point I was sure that it was impossible for humans to squeeze any tighter into a space (that idea lasted less than thirty minutes). A voice coming from nowhere (maybe speakers or the TV screens around the edge? I couldn't say as I could see nothing but the dandruff encrusted head of a fellow crushee. the voice promised that at some point in the near future the doors would open and all our dreams would come true. At this point the anti-carnivore propaganda came strongly to mind. The doors became a focal point of nightmare like the haunted dreams of a bovine approaching the golden arches. Loud noises and unpleasant rumbles came from what must surely be a hideous, blood smeared factory floor beyond those doors. Slowly, imperceptibly (remember, I'm sardined in with my ungulate brethren) the doors opens. A second, smile betrothed, member of staff ushered us forwards like a lioness driving wildebeest into her pride-mates, and probably some towards a river of gleaming toothed crocodiles. We strained and heaved and squeezed and greasy skinned slipped through the gates of our doom - a 4D cinema, apparently much like the one at the London Eye.

The biggest difference was clearly the Northern bingo caller telling us all to "squish in a bit luv" and "can you put anyone smaller in front of you so that we can get another two dozen in please?" Once securely jammed and crammed, we had the Merlin Blackpool propaganda film show. A pleasant, exciting, friendly, welcoming, shining beacon of humanity was displayed in this grim pit of revolting, smelly, dank and unpleasant place. The lies were impressive, and the neurotoxic pumped into the auditorium quelled any fears that the world may not be this sickly, cotton candy simulacrum in front of us.

There was a perceptible heroin withdrawal furore as the film finished and the back doors opened as the real world was once again thrust forcefully upon us like a breath of tainted air. We exit around a corner to be confronted with... You know how long the queue was.

This time we are entertained though by a video showing how they produced the lies in the video - hammering further home that it really was all just made up. We watch it as we make our way through to the final highlight. Our goal is in sight now and the lifts to heaven open and close in front of us. We wil lat last get to experience "The Blackpool Eye". Tension runs high as we are at the front of the packed lift entrance. A call for two people to fit into a very packed lift, no takers. "We'll squeeze you four in then" the unpleasantly cheery lift operator offers us. Here, Disney could learn a thing or two about presentation of fear in an elevator themed attraction. I could not perceive room for two people, but baggage laden Furie (yes, Family_furie are 100% in this category by this point)? Surely not? It is here I discovered how wrong I was earlier about the ability for the human form to morph and mould into a tight space with other human beings. I was more intimate in there with a man from Durham than I have been with several girlfriends! Suddenly, the dungeons looked like like an exceptionally pleasant and friendly option and I regretted not taking that option over this.

After 300 feet of ascent, we burst from the lift out onto the Spinacre Tower "glass floor". Our target objective, reached. Mission accomplished!

Time to die

Only not! It's now passed our Merlin sanctioned fun time, so we must rapidly descend to the urine scented padded room of amusement. Only, there's a queue for the lifts down. you didn't expect that did you? Shockingly (and I suspect against company policy), this queue was under ten minutes - somebody will be sacked for THAT blunder! Happily, we got to repeat the world record attempt for largest number of people unpleasantly stuffed into a metal box - the joy was incredible at once again being close to my Northern chum from earlier.

As the lift was leaving, the second lift arrived, prompting the car staff to yell loudly at each other. The conversation ended with the delightful, Northern child friendly "I told the bastards to :xcensoredx: off". While a gentleman did berate the attendant for use of colourful language in front of his child, she simply slipped on a Merlin issue fake smile and sent us down.

We exited into the obligatory gift shop; which, while not surprising, didn't appear to have an exit. There was some confusion until it became clear that the only way to the exit was through the till area. It wasn't clear if exit was only permissible if a receipt was shown, so we slipped past the exit assistant while he was busy trying to fix his smile into place.

We passed once more through the morose food area and my heart went out to my fellow unfortunate soul mates, understanding now the dire need to feed and try to glean some enjoyment from this soul sucking world. My day was far from over though, the children demand entertainment!

As the current enjoyment session was already in place, there was no queue and we exchanged our tickets for ear tags coloured wristbands and the children were free to roam.

Although there are a limited number of places available for each "session", there are not enough tables and chairs for all the parents, so I found a small section of theming to put myself down on. Madame_Furie went to buy drinks (four bottles of vodka, one for each member of the family) while I contemplated the best way to slash my wrists.

Now, the manager of "Jungle Jim's" will surely be in for an award and/or bonus. Having a single, slightly incompetent member of staff manning the food area for several hundred thirsty and pissed off people was a stroke of genius. A queue that managed to exceed the total amount of time you were allowed in the area is the kind of goal management at Merlin can only dream of. Then by simply adding teabags to the coffee cups, every customer is guaranteed to return it unhappy and increase the issue tenfold. Absolutely stunning work.

Finally, our time was up and we sadly had to leave "The Blackpool tower Experience". The fun of course doesn't end there. We have yet to play the "find a food outlet not blocked up by incoherent drunks" game, and the "traffic jam of oooh", also known as the Blackpool illuminations. I may save those for another time, but I think that you may already have some idea of the outcome...

Okay, okay, okay - this isn't a 100% fair review. I think it's clear I'm not a huge fan of Blackpool; I find it a huge struggle to view it as a decent town to take your family for a day out. By the time we left The Tower, queues were minimal - we simply hit at the wrong time on a Saturday afternoon while the illuminations were on. It doesn't excuse some of the monstrous mistakes Merlin seem to make in terms of trying to deal with capacity, but it's probably not a fair view of a general day at The Tower.

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