Do we really need Disney World? A trip report

Regular readers will know that I planned a tour of UK theme parks for my birthday last week. As promised, here is the trip report.

I want to start with my conclusions. More detailed information will follow. There will be pictures.

The headline is this: After over a year of non-stop COVID horror, and after four months of what felt like an interminable and brutal lockdown that sometimes pushed me to the edge, it was awesome to get away. And — here’s the key take-home — it felt like COVID was over. That last point might be a little controversial: I’ll explain.

In the UK we have not had the kind of super-strict mask mandates that some states in the US have had. You don’t in general have to wear a mask outdoors. For the last four months wearing a mask indoors hasn’t been much of a thing because there have been no indoors to go to, other than your own house. Oh, and essential shops, i.e. supermarkets, which have been very hot on COVID regulation. But I get everything delivered, so shops haven’t been a thing for me.

We are now at Stage 2 — which means that, for example, theme parks have reopened, but only outdoor attractions, though the rules are a bit confusing, perhaps. BTMR and Splash would be OK, but not Space. NRJ would be OK, but not FOP. It’s to do with where the queue is and how socially distanced the ride is. Masks have to be worn on rides (which doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me when the ride is one like BTMR — how much COVID transmission can there be?) but not necessarily in queues, and not when wandering around. All eating and drinking must be outdoors, but there are no mask requirements and you can saunter around nursing a Frappuccino if you want to. It helps that the two parks I visited are much more open and spread out than the WDW and UOR parks: you don’t so much have rides right next to each other (like in Fantasyland).

So for the first time since December, I was able to get in my car and drive out of my home town. I was able to check into an Airbnb (but not a hotel — those are still closed). I was able to go to a theme park (two, actually). And I was able to stay in a self-contained cabin. I felt free. Sure there were points where I had to wear a mask, and times when I forgot I was wearing one so that I was doing so even though I didn’t have to. And there was some hand-sanitising going on. And they weren’t necessarily filling all the seats on the rides. But — honestly — it felt like pre-COVID. It was great.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t have any political opposition to mask-wearing. But I did feel perhaps a little complacent about the facts that (a) I’ve had the first vaccine shot, and (b) the UK COVID numbers are looking pretty good right now.

I also chose to take my trip mid-week, when most people are at work and most kids are at school. Theme park number one was virtually empty. Social distancing was not only possible, but pretty much impossible to avoid! (From what I’ve seen online, weekends are a very different experience.) Theme park number two was busier, but social distancing was still very easy. And mask-compliance was great. At no point did I feel unsafe. (As I did — though only once — during my DLP trip when I left the line for HM because I felt people were crowding too much.) Where there were lines, barriers had been erected — sometimes plexiglass, sometimes more imaginative extensions to the existing theming. At theme park number two, I had the equivalent of Express Pass, so that I never waited in lines anyway.

I know we’re not out of the woods yet, but it sure was nice to forget about COVID for three days and just have some damned fun.

(More generally, in the UK, COVID is fading a little from public consciousness. Our news bulletins are no longer wall-to-wall COVID. After four dreary years of all Brexit all the time, followed by all COVID all the time, it’s been such a relief to get back to political scandals and soccer dramas. I imagine you must feel something similar now that the 45th president is no longer in the news all day every day.)

Oh, yeah. The reason for my hilarious thread title will become apparent when I get to the main trip report itself. For now, I’m checking out. Back later.

30 Likes

My god the SOCCER DRAMA reached across the pond. Never thought I would have seen that much footy outrage in my day!

5 Likes

So are we for or against Super League? :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:

Looking forward to your trip report from not WDW.

It’s been six hours since you started this report. Where is the rest of it?!?!?

3 Likes

I ended up liking this thread much more than I thought I would based on the title. I should have known it was a @mousematt ™ thread, in which case I wouldn’t have doubted.

4 Likes

I just want to hear about the shoes! Did you try the Natives and how did they do?

5 Likes

Happy Birthday! I cannot wait to hear this trip report.

Ugh. You people are so demanding.

So, next instalment: Dramatis personae and Day 1 at Blackpool Pleasure Beach

You may remember I mentioned two friends who I was going to take to WDW this summer. In the end we decided — well, they suggested and I agreed — that it would be better to postpone the trip until 2022. This is likely to be their only big WDW trip and they really want the full experience, not whatever passes for it right now.

However, something rather extraordinary happened. I had made it clear to them both that I wanted them to have skin in the game. So I had said that I wanted them to save £10 each per week so that they would have a pot of money to draw on for souvenirs, snacks and any QS meals we would have.

Now, the two are a couple: one early forties, the other mid-thirties. Thanks — I’ve never been one to not sing my own praises — in some small part to me, the younger one is now at college, studying for his undergraduate degree. The other I’d somewhat give up on: he’s been long-term unemployed for as long as I’ve known him, which is about 15 years.

They were both really excited about the WDW trip and became really invested in it. And, for the first time, they realised that you can actually have a better life if you have money. So the older one started looking for a job. And he got one! And it’s a pretty good one, making pretty decent money! And he’s doing really well at it! That’s some Disney magic right there.

Anyhoo, the relevance of all that to this thread is that because he’s working, he couldn’t come on this trip, so it was just the younger one, Stuart, and me.

Things started last Wednesday at noon, when I took Calvin to my friend Sarah’s house. She is an all-round angel who has looked after Calvin now for three of my WDW trips and for my DLP trip. She’s known him since he was a puppy and I know he’s safe and happy when he stays with her. Monstrous as this sounds to me, after an initial twang of sadness after I leave him behind (I can hear his separation-anxiety barking for a while before I’m far enough away to no longer hear it) I actually kinda forget about him almost immediately.

To be honest, I’ve needed a bit of respite from him. He has chronic rhinitis — which means he has regular coughing fits. I hate it. It drives me crazy. I hate to see (and hear) him suffer. I hate the noises he makes (coughing, retching, choking). I hate that he wakes me up multiple times in the middle of the night because he’s coughing. At one point I seriously wondered if I should have him put down, but he clearly enjoys going out for walks and playing and, well, just hanging out with me. So it’s not a selfish cruelty to keep him alive.

Anyhoo, Calvin was with Sarah, so Stuart and I set off in the car for Blackpool. It’s a roughly two hour drive, which I split into two legs by stopping off at a drive-through KFC on the way. We drove straight to the Pleasure Beach on our arrival in Blackpool.

Blackpool Pleasure Beach (BPB) is 125 years old this year. It’s one of the two main attractions in Blackpool, the other being the Tower (about which more later). It’s privately owned and has been in the same family throughout its existence. It is currently run by the great-granddaughter of the founder. The second generation owner, Leonard Thompson, was actually friends with Walt Disney.

Blackpool itself is a classic northern English seaside town that has very much seen better days. The European Union spent enormous sums beautifying it and the seven mile long, straight stretch of coastline is very attractive and features three piers. The tide goes out a very long way, leaving huge sandy beaches. Nonetheless, there is a lot of poverty and unemployment in Blackpool and, behind the promenade, much of it is very run down.

I first visited in the mid-1970s before cheap flights to Europe, and America, were a thing. I moved down south when I was around nine years old and didn’t return to Blackpool until around 2010. I’ve been maybe half a dozen times since. So the place does have some emotional resonance for me.

We arrived at around 2pm and the park closed at 5pm. But this was a Wednesday, outside of the school holidays, and at a time when hotels were not allowed to open. So the place seemed almost deserted. This meant we got a lot done.

First stop: the Big One — a 213 ft tall rollercoaster opened in 1994 that has become iconic of BPB itself. It was for a while the tallest and steepest rollercoaster in the world. It runs the full length of the park and almost circumnavigates it. The ride is thrilling, bordering on scary. The initial, seemingly vertical, drop is 205 ft, and then it reaches speeds of 74 mph. I’d been really looking forward to riding it again, but I have to admit that I’m getting old. I rode it once on each of the two days we were there — and that was enough.

Next up: Icon. This is Blackpool’s newest rollercoaster (opened in 2018) and shows just how far the technology has come. It’s silky smooth and extremely comfortable to sit in and ride. It is not as intense as the Big One — it’s nowhere near as tall, nor as fast — but it does feature an inversion as well as a top hat. One of the clever features of the ride is how it “interacts” with other rides in the park, snaking between the pillars of the Big One, for example. This is partly out of necessity: the park has a fixed area and there is no room for expansion. I had, in fact, never ridden it before, so I was excited to do so. (I stopped going to BPB when I discovered WDW in 2017.)

We then went old school. BPB features a number of “woodies” — wooden rollercoasters that date as far back as 1923 (the Big Dipper). They are pretty rickety and rough, but that’s part of their charm. One of them, the Grand National (1935, named after a famous annual steeplechase) is a twin-track, Mobius-loop coaster — the theme is that two coasters set off at the same time and race each other: you end up on the opposite side of the loading dock when you finish.

We also rode some of the park’s classic dark rides: Ghost Train (1930), Alice In Wonderland (1962) and the River Caves (1905) — which is cross between NRJ and IASW.

Next up . . . our Airbnb experience and Day 2 at BPB.

21 Likes

I’m a big Dick Francis fan, so know all about the Grand National. Well, kind of, but I have been to horse races (including steeplechases) in England. After reading ALL of his books, that was high on my list of things to do. We also drove through Newmarket to see the horses and the downs. It was fab!

Second, good on you for being a good influence on your friends! You try to make us believe you don’t have a big heart, but you’re not fooling me! And third, good on your friend for getting a job and doing well at it! And his partner for going back to school! You’re just so full of good news, I’m kind of afraid someone has kidnapped you and is posting in your stead. :sweat_smile:

13 Likes

I agree wholeheartedly with this statement!

3 Likes

Yes, yes we are…

7 Likes

This is fascinating. I had no idea there were amusement/theme parks in England. I thought you all got into fights at soccer games and wore ivory wool sweaters to cricket matches for amusement. You haven’t even reported about a cup of tea or said “cheerio”. Are you sure you’re British? I mean, I know I’m new here, but – this is fascinating! I can’t wait to read more!

(Seriously, this is so cool!!! If I go to Townsend, TN, and tube down the river this July, should I post that as a trip report???)

7 Likes

Super league is awful and I’m so glad it’s falling apart.

4 Likes

I agree. I did ask DS to explain it to me, being an avid player and all. I would hate for players to lose their jobs so the big guys could make more money.

2 Likes

Is anyone else a little concerned about how the question in the title of the thread will be answered? Maybe @mousematt will tell us the answer is NO?! :scream::flushed::cry:

7 Likes

This is taking me back, we used to go to Blackpool regularly when I was little but I haven’t been to the Pleasure Beach since 1998.

5 Likes

I love the Grand National ride! So much fun.

2 Likes

Um, this was a really close call and I am glad you are safe, since you were not on it.

Thanks for taking us along on your amusement park trip. Good job on inspiring your friend to get a job! OH, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

4 Likes

There is no replacing WDW. He will be back, no matter how much fun he is having elsewhere…

4 Likes

I have mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, you can actually pay to walk up that hill and those lucky people got to do it for free! On the other hand, it’s really high and I don’t know if I would have freaked out. You feel so vulnerable up there.

You’ll have to wait and see!

9 Likes