Saturday, 2 April 2016

Dreamland Margate -revisiting the retro park after 24 years.

My husband took me to Margate when we were "courting"  for a romantic weekend almost 25 years ago. It has been a running joke for our entire marriage that he took a previous girlfriend to Paris - and I got to go to Margate.

To be fair, we had a lovely weekend and I remember lots of laughter and an adrenalin-filled ride on the resort's famous wooden Scenic Railway rollercoaster ride in Dreamland, the seafront pleasure park.

Dreamland margate entrance

Here we are almost a quarter of a century and seven children later and amazingly we had never been back! Luckily we picked a beautiful sunny day for our return which meant we could enjoy the beautiful sweep of sandy beach and the vintage-style fun at Dreamland which has been dubbed the UK's original pleasure park, reimagined.

Now I am going to be brutally honest. Despite an amazing world class gallery (Turner Contemporary) and the fabulous beach I mentioned, much of Margate is a bit grim. We ventured along the front from Dreamland into the shopping area in search of an ATM and I was saddened to see quite a lot of closed down or tatty shop fronts.

However, the refurb of Dreamland is well under way and hopefully that will help to bring the resort back to it's former glory - and to be fair my children didn't seem to spot the run down areas as they were so happy to be by the seaside.
Margate beach

So - Dreamland. From the seafront it still does look a long way from its best but once in the park, or if accessed from the carpark on the side it's easy to see how much has been done and is being done to restore the park which has some real gems in terms of vintage architectural features.

Dreamland margate

On the day I visited it was the park's first proper day of the season which they celebrated with a "Hoist the Main Sail" event which runs until April 10. Apparently local people had been encouraged to come along showing off 50's style fashion and, along with staff who were dressed up too, it really highlighted the vintage feel of the park.

There are lots of rides from my youth (and my mum's!) and after starting off gently with the galloping horses, a classic carousel ride, we swiftly ramped up the excitement with a go on the dodgems and an (exhausting for me) ride on the "pedal it yourself" monorail.

My thrill-seeking teenage daughter was the only one brave enough of us to defy gravity on the "barrel of laughs" ride which uses centrifugal force to "stick" people to the sides of the spinning barrel as the floor drops away. Watching from the viewing gallery above made me feel dizzy so I can't imagine what being in it was like!

We spent a happy few hours exploring the park. Heigh restrictions were clearly marked but even my youngest (aged 7) could go on most of the rides albeit accompanied by an adult (including the wonderful bumpy Speedway ride - how cool does he look (below) on our motorbike!

Speedway, dreamland margate

 There were also rides he could enjoy alone like the giant multi-coloured slide which he loved, and I spotted a nice area with rides and activities aimed at very small children.

margate dreamland

Queues were reasonable ranging from 0 minutes to about 20 minutes for the Ferris Wheel on the day I visited. The queue for the Scenic Railway was the longest and I confess we were too tired to wait in line so sadly I didn't get to re-live my ride of decades ago.

I would imagine a sunny summer day might be busy and queues longer so I would advise going early to make the most of the entrance price. You can get your hand stamped and come and go but there is a good selection of places to eat and drink at reasonable prices so you could stay all day.

Speaking of food and drink - highlights for me would be the roller disco and diner and Morelli's ice-cream parlour which offers beautiful gelato or soft pump-dispensed ice-cream so all tastes catered for.

My children were asked to take part in some filming which involved them eating lots of lovely ice-cream from Morelli's - they were real professionals and ate spoonful after spoonful - just for the camera's you understand.  Although my 11 year old son really was a star - he ate chocolate ice-cream at the request of the cameraman even though he absolutely hates chocolate!
Morellis icecream margate Dreamland

Parking is easy, right next to the park and clearly signposted from the seafront. The railway station is very close too.

Special mention must go to the staff who I felt lifted the park above simple fairground status. Mostly older than your average pleasure park employee they were without exception friendly, chatty, helpful and did their best to create a fun atmosphere on each ride and around the park.

So would I go back? Well despite the slightly depressed feel to some areas of the town, and to be fair some areas of Dreamland I would go back - probably this year.

The children had an amazing day and although the entrance price might seem quite high at first glance I think there are enough rides to make you feel you'd had your money's worth.

Dreamland Margate

Day tickets cost £17.95 for adults and £14.95 per child but you can save 15% by booking online. Thanet residents get "on the day" discounts if they can produce photo ID and a Thanet council tax bill and there are concession tickets available too.

There are a few stalls within the park which cost extra - pick a duck and such like but there seemed to be enough people carrying prizes to prove that these carry a good chance of actually winning something. My daughter won a small duck and could have saved her points to play again and upgrade to a bigger one.

Dreamland Margate

Check out the website for details about other attractions at the park - afternoon tea, tea dances, roller disco, Halloween "Screamland" events and much more.

Disclaimer: I was invited to experience Dreamland free for the purposes of this honest review.

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