TRAVEL REVIEW: Why Blackpool still towers above the rest for seaside holiday fun
It is one of those places that you either love or hate.
There's no two ways about it, Blackpool is one of those places that polarises opinion.
There are those that hate its brash, flash round the clock party atmosphere, while others revel in its pomp and glory as the undisputed king of the traditional British seaside resort with its sticks of rock, piers and Kiss Me Quick hats.
I'm one who falls into the latter camp. Ever since a day trip as a child, its a place that I've been drawn to time and time again for fun, family breaks and holidays and yes, the occasional boozy lads' weekend too.
Yes, it is gaudy - but surely that's the appeal of a seaside break - a shift from the everyday norms to the bright lights, frivolity and fun that you don't get at home.
So as I hurtled along the M55 motorway in blazing sunshine at the start of the school summer holidays with the kids still excitedly looking out for the Tower even though they are 12 and 14, I knew as always, we'd be in for a fun-filled time.
We had just two days to spend in the resort - and the best way to enjoy the very best of what Blackpool has to offer is to snap up a Big Ticket.
It gets you into all of the town's biggest and best attractions and promises huge savings too, making it the best value way to enjoy all of the leading sights.
The ticket includes entrance to The Blackpool Tower Eye (the swanky new name for Blackpool Tower in case you were wondering), the wonderfully ornate and historic Tower Ballroom, The Tower Circus, The Blackpool Tower Dungeon, Jungle Jim's play centre, Sea Life and Madame Tussauds.
Eager to get stuck in, after briefly checking into our hotel, The Carousel at South Shore past the Pleasure Beach (more of that later) we headed to the nearest tram stop to head back into town.
There's no better way of whizzing around Blackpool and while the traditional trams of yore might just be restricted to heritage excursions along the Promenade these days, it is still the number one choice when it comes to traversing the eleven miles between Starr Gate and Fleetwood.
Our new, sleek modern tram quickly zoomed us beneath the shadow of the world famous Tower - and with a traffic-jam delayed journey and sizzling temperatures, our trio was much in need of some refreshment.
And what better way than to take a relaxing afternoon tea in the surrounds of the incredible Tower Ballroom?
Rounds of sandwiches, delicious scones with clotted cream and jam and a dainty tray of pastries and desserts too, we could have stopped watching the couples dancing to the mighty Wurlitzer in the glorious ballroom all afternoon, but my lads were eager to explore.
And so up the Tower we headed. Needless to say, with it being a clear day, the views from the top were incredible - and even though I've been to the pinnacle on many occasions before, its still got that wow factor when you reach the summit - more so if you take the Walk of Faith on the glass floor that's not for the faint hearted!
Pictures aplenty captured, we headed next to the Blackpool Tower Dungeon which has replaced the famous aquarium which used to be in the Tower's basement.
Now it has been a few years since I last visited a Dungeon-style attraction and we were expecting a few dark corridors lined with animatronic figures and cobwebs dangling from the ceiling.
How wrong we were. We were treated to a vivid, gruesome and interactive trawl through Lancashire's grisly history with an amazing cast of theatrical actors, special effects and concluding with a thrilling vertical drop ride. Funny, fantastic and frightening, the Blackpool Tower Dungeon was almost worth the admission price of the Big Ticket alone.
But there was still more to do. The famed Tower Circus, now in its 126th year, still draws in the crowds summer after summer.
Situated between the Tower's four legs, resident clowns Mooky and Mr Boo hold court - but its the spectacular water finale that still boasts magical appeal. You want 42,000 gallons of water in under a minute? Then that's what you get - along with a showpiece ending that no other circus anywhere else can deliver.
After a busy day, we headed back to our 3-star hotel which was situated at South Shore, the much quieter end of the town, past the Pleasure Beach.
The Carousel, part of the Sleepwell Hotels group, is a small but attractive hotel with modern fittings and stylings and we were grateful of nice comfy beds to crash into after a hectic and fun-filled day.
After a great night's sleep and fuelled by a superb all-you-can-eat breakfast the following morning, we headed out onto the Promenade and soaked up the sunshine and blue skies as we headed for our next destination - Madame Tussauds.
One of only two interactive waxworks in Britain (the other is of course in London) this was the highlight of the trip for the boys. They loved getting up close to a string of celebrities - with TV and film stars, sports stars, royalty and many more on show.
There was everyone from Ed Sheeran to Morecambe and Wise, Keith Lemon and Ant and Dec to Simon Cowell and Lewis Hamilton - not to mention Blackpool's very own Coronation Street - the venue is home to its very own Rovers Return, where we enjoyed a cooling glass under the watchful eye of Bet Lynch and Ken Barlow!
The Marvel exhibition (new this year) was a hit with my superhero daft lads, while a chance to get their own hands cast in wax was too good an opportunity to pass up - and the finished models now take pride of place at home!
Last but not least, the Blackpool Big Ticket also includes entrance to Sea Life Blackpool - a chance to marvel and gaze at more than 1,000 marine creatures up close and personal across 50 dazzling displays.
There's Nobby the giant lobster - believed to be more than 100 years old - and Boris the shark plus loads more to see and do.
We'd managed to cram loads in - but Blackpool has so much more to offer all year round - and it won't be long before we're back!
* The Blackpool Big Ticket offers admission to seven attractions under one ticket, with savings of over 50%. The tickets are valid for 90 days - meaning you can spread out the attractions across the months.
Tickets cost £46 for adults and £33.50 for children and a toddler's ticket for under threes is £8.95.
You can buy online at www.theblackpooltower.com/bigticketTickets can also be bought over the phone on 0871 222 9929.
* The Carousel Hotel is situated at 663-671 New South Promenade, South Shore, Blackpool, FY4 1RN.
The hotel is a modern AA rated 3 star hotel with 92 en suite rooms - many with sea views - as well as 25 modern, good size family rooms. The hotel also boasts Cafe Bar 663 - which offers an extensive all day menu including a set price children's selection and Kids Corner, an activity area to keep youngsters entertained.
Further details can be found at www.carouselhotel.co.uk