Dreamland is finally back in business. The iconic seaside attraction, located in Margate in Kent, UK, was left derelict for a decade, but after a hard-fought campaign to save it, the doors are open once more.
The attraction has been re-designed, restored and re-branded by Hemingway Design and it’s being operated by Sands Heritage. Founded in the 1920s, the park draws on its history, with vintage rides, old-school activities and a retro vibe. We paid a visit to find out if the historic park can hold its own in today’s industry.
A visit to Dreamland Margate takes a couple of hours or more, though the day we were there it was very quiet so we didn’t need to queue for any rides. The Pleasure Park has 20 rides from different periods in amusement park history and a ‘comfort food’-inspired F&B area. ‘Fun Fairers’ perform around the park and a range of side shows add to the carnival atmosphere.
Indoors is a roller disco, the Dreamland Arcade (with vintage pinball and games machines) and an event space to host film screenings, concerts and dances, rekindling the venue’s tradition of live entertainment.
Tickets can be brought online in advance, with savings of over 15 per cent. Visitors are stamped so they can leave and return. This gives the option to go to the nearby beach, or do other activities if it rains.
The main attraction is the Scenic Railway, the UK’s oldest rollercoaster, but when we visited it still wasn’t operational, because the cars weren’t ready. It was disappointing, but when the ride opens it will boost the level of excitement in the park.Several other rides were closed, giving the impression Dreamland may have opened a little prematurely. Lots of the machines in the arcade were also not working.
The rides are child-friendly, making this a great destination for families. Each ride has a sign explaining its history and restoration. A 1922 carousel, helter skelter and ferris wheel define the identity of the park.
The Pleasure Park has a funfair feel and a beach-inspired motif, with plenty of nice details and quirky signs and ride theming. There are upcycled elements (swan boats used as seating), beach references (deck chairs) and a laid-back nostalgic vibe.
The new branding is very strong, communicated through the website, social media, the park’s map and leaflets, the uniforms, billboard posters and signage.
However, some of the punch is lost in Dreamland itself. Something was lacking in the overall effect, which failed to connect the different aspects of the experience. There were also areas where construction was ongoing. It’s a work in progress, and needs more time to establish itself. However, Dreamland is almost 100 years old – a little more time isn’t too much to ask and many early visitors will be happy to be supporting its future success.
The staff – young and old – were friendly, outgoing and willing to chat.
Dreamland Emporium sells a range of interesting merchandise. Souvenirs are inspired by the British seaside and the Dreamland branding.
One creative range of products has been upcycled from salvaged wood from the Scenic Railway. The line includes brooches, keyrings, clocks, signs and purses, at prices from £5 to £100 ($8 to $156, €7 to €141). Profits from sales go back into community projects at Dreamland.
FOOD AND BEVERAGE
Shack-style outlets serve a variety of meals in a food court with shaded tables. Choose from fish and chips, Thai noodles, burgers and seafood the traditional way: cockles, mussels, whelks, jellied eels and crab claws (£2.50, $4, €3.50). We ate cod and chips and vegetarian noodles (about £6, ($9, €8)), which were a good standard.
In a world of big brands and global IPs, the Dreamland park offers something different. It has its own story and characters and the seeds of its modernised identity should quickly mature into a unique and memorable attraction offering.
If the next phases of the development of the complex – which include a cinema and ballroom – continue unhindered, Dreamland should recapture the glory of its past years.
Dreamland should also contribute to the regeneration of Margate, a town that’s struggled in recent times, but is re-establishing itself as a destination. Dreamland hires people locally and runs community initiatives. Success would be further proof that good attractions can bring huge benefits to their communities.