Destinations

WHY GO TO LAS VEGAS WHEN YOU CAN GO TO BLACKPOOL?

Blackpool has a ridiculous amount to offer, but can it compete with Las Vegas? We think so…
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Two days before our 15th wedding anniversary I said to my wife Claire: ‘Do you remember the days before we were tired all the time? Before we had kids we used to do things, exciting things, things that would require us to stay up late and sleep until noon, things that would make us laugh and give us stories to tell our friends.’ I paused for dramatic effect. ‘I want to do those things again. I want to spend a weekend in a place full of glitz and glamour, full of energy and excitement, where I can gamble a hundred quid on a single spin of a roulette wheel, shop for something we want but don’t need, have dinner in a great restaurant, followed by a show or maybe even dancing.’
Her eyes lit up and her jaw dropped. ‘We’re going to Las Vegas?’ ‘Nearly...’ I replied. ‘We’re going to Blackpool

At a cursory glance, it might seem that I had somewhat oversold our two-night trip away from home. After all, when most people think of Blackpool, the images that spring to mind are of the Tower, the promenade, the Illuminations... And yes, come the weekend, numerous stag and hen parties in search of a good time. A far cry from the glitz and glamour of Vegas.

But the two locations have more in common that you might imagine. For just as Vegas evolved to serve the 20,000 or so workers who had arrived to labour on the nearby Hoover Dam in the early Thirties, so Blackpool emerged to cater for 19th-century Lancashire cotton workers as the mill-owners began the practice of closing for a week each year to repair the machinery. At the heart of both locations lies the same agenda: to entertain, relax and make you forget about all your woes.

To convince my wife that she didn’t need a long flight to get some Vegas flavour, I carefully planned an evening of entertainment to commence with a ride around town in a chauffeur-driven limo. ‘This one was originally used for Britney Spears’s wedding.’ Reveals Patrick Cuddihy, head driver of local limo service Jet Set limousines, as we climb inside a Lincoln stretch model. As he pours us Champagne and switches on the disco lights, I wonder aloud which other celebrities might have been inside the car. ‘All the greats,’ he deadpans. ‘Frank Carson, Roy Walker and most of the cast of EastEnders.’ Hmm, not quite Sinatra’s Rat Pack, but it’ll do for now.

Settling back against the plush leather seating, we head along Blackpool’s answer to The Strip and take in, not the lights of the casinos and hotels of Las Vegas, but the equally beguiling glow of The Illuminations. The Illuminations season runs from late August to early November, costs a staggering £2.4 million to stage, stretches almost six miles from Starr Gate to Bispham and features more than a million light bulbs. It really is a sight to behold, along with the flashing lights of the resort’s three piers. And once you get near the Tower, practically every shop front is festooned with a vast array of coloured lights. But even without the Illuminations, Blackpool is no slouch on the glitter front.

As Vegas is the capital of the gambling world, our first destination is Blackpool’s Grosvenor Casino and, even though I am a gambling novice, as I walk in with Claire on my arm it’s hard not to feel a little bit ‘money’. ‘I feel lucky,’ I inform her, channelling the spirit of a Rat Pack era high roller. ‘You’ve got ten pounds and that’s your limit,’ she replies. The Grosvenor (which essentially never closes) offers blackjack, roulette, electronic roulette and slot machines with £4,000 jackpots. While Claire turns out to be something of a natural when it comes to blackjack, I seem to be hopeless at everything. Thankfully, however, the misery of my £10 loss is all but expunged by a delicious meal at the casino’s new mezzanine-level restaurant, paid for by Claire’s modest winnings.

Well-rested the following morning after a breakfast overlooking the Fylde coast, we are determined to make the most of daytime Blackpool. Keen to see a bit of nature, we head out to the sand dunes towards the south of the city. 

"Lytham St Annes hosted the ultimate major championship, The Open"

As we’re close to Lytham St Annes we debate whether we ought to visit its world-renowned golf course. As well as being up there in its ability to compete with Vegas counterparts like Shadow Creek in terms of the quality of the course, it has hosted the ultimate major championship, The Open.

In the end, however, with the clock ticking we give the golf a miss and make our way to the Lucky Star Amusement Arcade for a touch of Vegas-style slot machine action.

Richer to the tune of £1.60 we move on to the Blackpool Tower complex. If you’re looking for Vegas equivalents then the Blackpool Tower complex is the jackpot. Upstairs is the Blackpool Tower Circus (the closest thing to Vegas’s Cirque du Soleil), next door is the Tower Ballroom (a glamorously ornate chamber echoing with faded grandeur) and below is the Blackpool Tower Dungeon (an English take on the Mob tours of Las Vegas, complete with comedy gore). And then, of course, there’s the tower itself.

While Vegas has its own mini Eiffel Tower inside the Paris Las Vegas hotel (half the size of the original), it is dwarfed by Blackpool’s iconic monument. Following a £20 million investment, it’s looking better than ever. There’s the Blackpool Tower Skywalk, a glass viewing platform where, much like the Grand Canyon’s Skywalk, visitors can experience the thrill of looking down from 158 metres. Looking out to sea on a clear day it offers views of the Isle of Man, and even if the weather’s not all that great (I doubt if it ever gets cloudy in Vegas), you’ll always be afforded views of Blackpool’s most recent addition and answer to Las Vegas’s Walk of Stars, the Comedy Carpet. At 2,200 square metres, featuring 160,000 individually cut letters spelling out famous one-liners from much-loved British comedians, it’s certain to become a Blackpool favourite.

It would be easy to continue with the Vegas comparisons without risking scraping the bottom of the (beach) bucket. I could compare the thrills of the Vegas Adventuredome theme park with those of Blackpool’s famous Pleasure Beach. Or the stars of The Las Vegas Madame Tussaud’s with those of Blackpool’s.

Its clear Blackpool has a ridiculous amount to offer, but can it really compete with Las Vegas? If you’re there on a scorching day I think you may well be having too good a time to care.

As for Claire and me, having tasted only a fraction of what Blackpool has to offer, I can safely say that while we might still feel tired all the time, it’s good to know that we’ve still (just about) got it.

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