Why visitors still love Blackpool

THE worst season ever – try telling that to Blackpool's attraction bosses.

If you thought the dreadful weather and the credit crunch had kept visitors away from the Golden Mile, then think again.

Blackpool's leading attractions say they have enjoyed something of a boom time this year.

Leisure Parcs, which owns Blackpool Tower and Circus, Louis Tussaud's Waxworks and the Winter Gardens complex, has invested millions of pounds in its attractions this year.

The waxworks is definitely the place for A-listers following a 1m refurbishment including a new entrance on the Promenade opposite Central Pier.

Stars including Ricky Hatton and Laurence Llewelyn Bowen are next on the list to be immortalised in wax.

Michael Williams, Leisure Parcs' operations director, said: "2008 has been a good season for all our attractions and has just been completed with an excellent half-term which has seen a 20 per cent increase compared to last year."

Jungle Jim's Towering Adventureland is the result of a 3m investment on level five of the Tower.

Mr Williams added: "Blackpool Tower has seen a fantastic return on the multi-million pound investment completed on Level Five earlier this year.

"Advance sales are already looking extremely positive for the Christmas Circus production of Aladdin which starts on the December 3."

The Winter Gardens welcomed almost 1,000 visitors when it hosted its first Family Halloween party and more spooktacular fun is promised after Carnesky's Ghost Train opened last week.

Some high profile names performed at The Opera House including The Mighty Boosh and singing star Jane McDonald, who has now confirmed she will return in 2009.

Steve Coogan and Scouting for Girls will hit the resort before Christmas and Russell Brand, Dave Spikey and Ross Noble have also been confirmed for 2009.

Creatures of the deep made a welcome entrance to Blackpool SeaLife Centre as part of Suckers, which is dedicated to octopuses and their relatives.

Marketing manager John Filmer said: "We have beaten our visitor budget already this year so anything else is a bonus. Hopefully we'll have a great 2009 too."

Water fun – human style – was had by all at the Sandcastle Waterpark which has seen visitor numbers rise by 21 per cent on last year.

The waterpark has swept the board at a number of prestigious award ceremonies, the most high profile being for customer service at North West Tourism Awards.

John Child, Sandcastle Waterpark's managing director, said: "This has been a fantastic year.

"We have some great things coming up at the end of this year with a Caribbean Christmas and are also looking forward to next year with a new and exciting Spa being introduced into the waterpark."

Three new giraffes and the arrival of a family of aardvarks has also helped to pull in the crowds at Blackpool Zoo.

Spokeswoman Jude Rothwell said: "We've had yet another successful season, recording small increases in both revenue and visitor numbers.

"The bad weather during the summer holidays has obviously affected our gate this year, but we're hopeful 2009 will be sunny and much warmer for our visitors and, of course, the animals."

Neil Thomson, Grand Theatre general manager, said highlights this season included the UK premiere of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers and two fabulous weeks of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

He added: "Blackpool has become a year-round experience for theatre, particularly in the Grand's case.

"We have continued with our 2007 policy of an eclectic mix of touring shows in place of a traditional summer season show, which again has proved very popular."

There were record-breaking numbers for Legends on Central Pier, which celebrated its 10th anniversary, and Joey Blower celebrated 15 years at The Merrie England on North Pier.

Pearl Mina, spokesman for Six Piers Ltd, owners of North, Central and South Piers, said: "The highlights and shining stars of our piers this season has undoubtedly been the fantastic, top quality and sensational shows that have entertained thousands of visitors throughout season.

"Blackpool piers have hosted a wide variety of high profile and successful special events from Gay Pride, The World Accordion Championships, World Firework Championships, a royal visit during Veterans' Week, and a stunning wedding to TV celebrities filming on location for their new shows including Gok Wan and Peter Kay."

North Pier has ended the season on a high with the announcement that children's TV hero Sooty will be returning to his birthplace.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach, which was knocked off the top spot as the most popular free tourist attraction in the UK this year, was hit by a wave of criticism after announcing its decision to break with a century of tradition by introducing a charge for admission.

The new entry system will mean that from the beginning of the 2009 season, visitors will have to either purchase an Unlimited Ride Wristband or a 5 Freedom Pass. Under-threes will get in free.

A 20 all-inclusive fee, which was charged by the fun park throughout October, also sparked fury among tourism bosses and hoteliers who worried holidaymakers would "not be willing to pay that sort of money".

Although official visitor figures have not been released, Pleasure Beach boss Amanda Thompson told The Gazette: "Due to the credit crunch we have found families are not taking as many day trips as they have in previous years.

"Because of this our visitor numbers are slightly down this year."

Are Blackpool's attractions better than ever? Leave your comments below.