Entering the Dreamland
Margate is all the rage these days. The Turner Centre and revitalisation of the Old Town kickstarted a cool that just won’t stop. The latest addition to the attractions has been the reopening of Dreamland, the seafront amusement park that was known in the 80s as Bembom Brothers and used to be the main reason anyone would visit Margate beyond the beach.
With Wayne Hemingway on board, the cool factor was almost guaranteed and the long campaign to Save Dreamland was starting to see fruition with the reimagination of the park as a Heritage Amusement Park. Funding was given to restore the famous (infamous?) Scenic Railway which had fallen foul of an arson attack but had listed status as the UK’s oldest rollercoaster, and secure vintage rides and attractions from other parks.
Back in June, the rejuvenated park finally reopened its doors to the public to much excitement and has already attracted some big names, including Jarvis Cocker and Vic Reeves. The park is much smaller than it was, with a large proportion of the former space making up a large car park, but the remaining area has been well used and there are enough rides to entertain the entire family for most of a day out (dependent on queue times).
The girls went with their mum at the start of August for Bear’s birthday and loved it so much they haven’t stopped talking about it all summer. I wanted to take them again, but was waiting for the right time to go. When my sister mentioned that she and her husband were planning to go with some friends in September, I decided to wait for them.
As we live locally, we get discounted entry, however, it still works out at nearly £40 for the three of us, so I opted for the annual membership option which was nearly £100 but gives us unlimited entry and discounts on food and purchases from the ‘Emporium’ (also known as the souvenir shop). As I already plan to go again with friends, I know we’ll get our money’s worth!
Despite a week of incessant rain and miserable weather, Saturday 19 September started with blue skies and bright sunshine and as the day progressed it got warmer and warmer. Talk about lucky! We entered the park from the main car park (having chosen to eschew the extortionate prices of this one for the free Saturday parking at the town centre multi-storey car park, just a few minutes’ walk away). The sign and colourful flags that adorn the tunnel under the Scenic Railway are clues to the iconic retro feel that is found throughout the park.
A portaloo block is just past the entrance and the ticket booths just beyond this. Heading into the main building to buy our membership, I was delighted to see the retro styling of the Roller Disco and small American style Diner, surrounded by an arcade which includes vintage machines that I remember from my childhood. The Emporium is filled with all kinds of Dreamland cool, from bone china cups to plastic cups, from tea towels to t shirts, and not all priced out of children’s pocket money ranges. The girls chose a pack of pencils, a baseball boot keyring and a helter skelter cup.
As the girls had already been, they knew which rides they could and couldn’t go on and which they wanted to go on first. They dragged me over to the rainbow slides before I’d even put the ticket in my bag. Bunny was confident enough to go by herself, and Bear snuggled in front of me, squealing with laughter all the way to the bottom! This was also the first clue that the park wasn’t quite finished (aside from the much reported Scenic Railway delays), or that modern health and safety doesn’t work with vintage rides. The outside and middle slides were blocked off and riders had to go one at a time which means no holding hands as you ride together. The slide isn’t much taller than the one at a local soft play centre and there are no restrictions there (at all), so this was disappointing and resulted in unnecessary queues.
Next we rode the ‘Gallopers’ or carousel and Bunny confidently rode a pony, while Bear and I sat in a carriage and then we were straight over to the ‘Speedway’ which is a fun motorbikes ride. Then the famous caterpillar which I remember from when I was a child. Once again, there were queues for this ride as nearly half of the carriages were out of use as the safety arms weren’t operating properly.
By now I was starting to feel a bit sick and dizzy, so was relieved when the girls chose to go on the Austin Cars roundabout – beautifully restored Austin cars which seat one child each, no adults allowed! As a single mum with two small children, it is worth mentioning that Bunny is able to go on most rides by herself (she is just over 1.1m tall) and Bear could ride with me on most of them too (she is just over 0.9m). This meant we got to go on almost everything without issue, but of course, this is also dependent on the child’s confidence as some taller, but younger children, may not be happy riding alone.
Once finished we had a toilet break (in a bigger, more permanent structure than the ones by the entrance, thankfully) and then ordered some food. There are two stalls offering children’s menus, one comes in a cute (sadly gendered) box and includes a tiny cheese or ham roll, a pot of jelly, a small chocolate bar (we had a Milky Way and Fudge in ours), a Bear fruit chew, a small bag of crisps (we had mini Cheddars and Hula Hoops), a Baby-Bel and a Dairylea triangle. At £4.50 this seemed quite expensive, especially as my two randomly decided they didn’t actually like half the contents, but is a great option for smaller children or parents hoping to avoid the less healthy options. We had to go to another stall for the drinks that came with it as that one had run out. Which meant queuing again. I then realised that for £1 less, the girls could have had chips with fishfingers, sausage, scampi or chicken nuggets, so I chose one of these to see how big they were and it was plenty for me (and I know the girls would have happily eaten them too as like most kids, they love chips)! However, this stall had run out of ketchup, so I had to make a return visit to the first stall (and queued again) to get this! Considering it was 14.30 and the park was fairly quiet, I was surprised by how long I had to wait for food and it did seem pretty disorganised. I had been tempted by the Thai or pulled pork options as well, and loved that there were coffee and cupcakes and cheeseboard stalls as well. As there were no free tables available, we headed over to the seating area by the caterpillar and the girls happily sat in one of the reclaimed swans to eat theirs.
At this point, my sister and her family and friends joined us and then the fun really began as I got to try some of the grown up rides the girls were too young for.
We worked our way around the park, taking turns to ensure the children got to ride or someone stayed with them while the grown ups did. I was surprised by how many thrill-seeker rides there were and was quite happy to take a break to let the girls go on some kiddie rides when I could. There was more H&S confusion when we got to the mini swing boats as apparently, small children (in other words, both of mine) have to be accompanied by an adult (unlike the full size swing boats on the beach!). As I went to get my brother-in-law to go with Bunny, the ride operator gave the spare swing boat away which meant only one of us could go. Luckily, Bunny was fine to go on the Double Decker ride next door so we didn’t have the expected melt-down. But, once again, a clue that the park still wasn’t quite ready with some staff who haven’t quite got their customer service skills fine-honed. On the flipside, staff were mostly friendly and helpful and seemed to be enjoying their work – especially the entertainers that danced their way around the park, dressed in retro gear and making me want to join in! Definitely worth mentioning was the ride operator who offered to ride the monorail with Bunny as each car only took two passengers and she was too small to ride alone.
Then a final disappointment as we found out that babies couldn’t go on the Big Wheel, so my sister and her husband were unable to go on it (I did offer to stay with their baby while they went as I knew we’d get to go again, but they insisted we went first and then ran out of time to go as well). I can understand mobile babies being a risk, but babes in arms less so – it’s high but it’s not fast and is well secured. However, the views were impressive, and better than I remember as Margate’s regeneration spreads out across the landscape.
Before we left, we went on a couple of rides we’d missed and had another go on the slide and a final spin on the carousel, with Bear trying a pony out this time. Then into the Emporium to spend their pocket money on souvenirs and time to head home for dinner and bed.
It was a great afternoon out and I know we’ll go again and again, especially as new rides and attractions open. They were testing the Scenic Railway while we were there and it looks fantastic, a beautifully realised restoration. I’ve already arranged to go with friends when it does reopen. We were also told that there will be Halloween activities over the October half term break and that Winter Wonderland is coming for Christmas, so I’m already excited to head back!
For those that don’t know, or don’t live locally (or even those that do), the train station is a few minutes’ walk from the entrance, just along the seafront so the park is easily accessible even for non-drivers. Do come and visit. Make a weekend of it and stay at one of the stunning hotels in Margate, visit the Turner Centre, the Old Town and eat at some of the fantastic restaurants that Margate boasts. Stay longer and head into Broadstairs for its traditional seaside vibe, or over to Ramsgate for its stunning marina and continental style cafe culture.