No visit to the historic seaside town of Margate would be complete with a trip down Memory Lane offered by Dreamland, the amusement park situated opposite the sea. To enter the gates of Dreamland is to step back in time to an age you didn’t know you’d missed, and into which you may not even originally have been born. It’s all about family time, the opportunity to set aside a part of the day devoted solely to spending time with family in the pursuit of nothing other than pleasure, than a good time shared.
The Scenic Railway, the oldest of its kind in the country, offers the chance for children and adults alike to be whizzed around a Grade II listed timber railway; there are numerous, vertigo-inducing rides and lifts for different ages; the Maze of Mirrors is particularly pleasing and winningly confusing; there’s an old-fashioned carousel, complete with horses, as well as the Big Wheel affording fantastic views across the town and out across the harbour once your car reaches the top.
The Dodgems are always popular, although bear in mind that children need to be aged fourteen to operate a car, a fact which caused utter consternation to my nine-year-old son initially, but didn’t stop him enjoying himself in the car alongside an adult and asking to go around again…
The Monotopia is a pedal-powered monorail with a bird’s-eye view of the park, and offers the chance for a brief work-out as you power your car around the elevated track. The helter-skelter is particularly good fun, standing iconically in the middle of the park. It’s the retro-nature of Dreamland that makes it so appealing; harking back to an era when it wasn’t all about technology, about mobile phones and Twitter, but about being outdoors with family, with friends, and taking part collectively in activities that were simply about making your own fun.
The bandstand hosts live music – one visit coincided with an energy-driven, punk-meets-Radiohead infused couple of sets from London-based Perhaps Contraption, and it’s always a treat to hear live performance as opposed to piped music – and is surrounded plenty of stalls to buy food and drink, and tables at which to sit whilst you listen. For young children, the Octopus’ Garden offers a soft play area, complete with a café at which adults can relax.
What is particularly beguiling about the atmosphere at Dreamland is that all the staff seem genuinely pleased that you are there – when they wish you ‘Have a great day!,’ you get the sense they actually mean it. Whilst waiting to ascend the steps to the top of Born Slippy, the curvaceous rainbow-coloured slide, a troupe of overalled park attendants suddenly and spontaneously burst into a choreographed dance routine to the song playing from the nearby carousel; it was a brilliant moment, in a heartbeat capturing the affection, pleasure and spontaneity of the day.
Admittedly, from the outside, the venue doesn’t seem to promise much; it’s not until you go inside, however, that Dreamland starts to work its magic. Posters adorning the foyer make it clear that there’s a vision for Dreamland’s continued evolution; billboards speak of a cinema, cafes, and attractions to come. Inside the entrance, there’s a small penny-arcade, a couple of eateries, and a Roller Disco. Recently, a new attraction has been opened, a smaller roller-coaster for young children – even then, there seemed to be quite a few adults squeezed into the caterpillar cars!
Season tickets to Dreamland are astonishingly good value, and there are several tiers ranging from full-access family membership down to a standard day ticket. Family group membership is £149.95, or £139.95 for off-peak membership – the former offers unlimited entry all-year-round, seven days a week. Day-tickets cost £17.95 per adult and £14.95 per child, with special discounts for local residents and a discount of 15% if bought online in advance.
What Dreamland really needs, however, right now, is your love and support. At the moment, Dreamland is like a toddler; full of enthusiasm, eager to please, and beginning to find confidence as it takes it first hesitant steps. It needs us; visitors, community, tourists, regional residents as well as far-flung visitors, to get behind it as it begins to take off. Dreamland looks ahead to the future of Margate’s economic and social regeneration – along with the Turner Contemporary, its sandy beaches and burgeoning summer festivals, the region is starting to emerge blinking into a new era. And on a glorious day, with the Big Wheel lifting into the cloudless blue, surrounded by the shrieks of people caught up in guiltless pleasure, it’s hard not to feel, briefly, as though time has stopped and given you a few precious moments in which you enjoy yourself. So take Dreamland by the hand and step forward with it into a bright future; visit, take some time to enjoy a visit – and spread the word.