Not so long ago the old Dreamland amusement park was a derelict, overgrown wasteland, looking and feeling pretty sorry for itself.
But after a fierce campaign, a lot of hard work and very possibly a little bit of magic, Dreamland has risen from the ashes (quite literally, as the park's majestic centre-piece, the Scenic Railway, was badly damaged in an arson attack in 2008 threatening any hopes of a resurrection).
We've been keeping our eye on the progress of the Save Dreamland campaign for some years now, so when the announcement was made that it was to open again as the 'world's first heritage amusement park', we nearly fell off our perch with excitement. Two of our favourite things combined - vintage nostalgia and roller coasters! Add to the mix the awesome Hemingway design team and you are sure to have a recipe for success.
A couple of months ago I got up at 5am and drove to Margate to stand in the queue for opening day tickets (and I am NOT a morning person), so we could be amongst the first people to set foot in the new refurbished fun park which opened its doors on Friday 19th June 2015.
After the long wait, we were not disappointed. Although the park is only in phase 1 of its development, there are already plenty of nostalgic fun and frolics to be had. After a warm welcome from the enthusiastic staff at the entrance, we were let in to run amok against a candy-striped backdrop of retro madness!
Inside the main space, vintage arcade games and pinball machines buzz and ping on a glittering floor inset with shiny pennies, whilst the roller room blasts out retro sounds for a non-stop party on wheels. The soon-to-open Octopus's Garden will provide an indoor play area for the kids, and there are various places to grab a bite to eat inside if the weather is unkind.
The Dreamland Emporium is full of charming Hemingway-designed goodies (see the end of this post for a chance to win a Dreamland goodie bag!) and is also stocked with a good selection of items by local artists.
Outside in the park, you can relive your childhood on the beautifully restored rides; have a romantic jaunt on the Gallopers, take a swing on the Chair-O-Plane, whizz round the Helter-Skelter or admire the golden Margate sands from the top of the Big Wheel.
The Scenic Railway (officially the UK's oldest roller coaster) was not yet ready to re-open on our visit, but as you enter the park under its impressive wooden structure you cannot deny its grand and imposing presence - listen hard and you can almost hear the squeals of excitement of 1920s day-trippers. I can't wait to go back and find out how a coaster of almost 100 years of age compares with modern day thrill-rides. From what I've heard, this ride can be a pretty hair-raising experience, requiring a brakeman to travel with the train to control its speed ... eeek!
One of our favourite rides was the classic Dodgems - these restored vintage cars can really GO, and for a speed queen like me it was impossible not to ride pedal-to-the-metal for the whole session - joy!
There's plenty for the little 'uns too, with the pretty Wedgewood Tea Cup ride and the adorable vintage Dreamland cars proving popular.
Amongst all the merriment it would be easy to miss the rather sombre presence of the remains of the original Sanger menagerie cages - themselves grade II listed like the Scenic Railway. It is pretty shocking to think that they once housed exotic animals in the 1870s as part of the Hall-by-the-Sea's Zoological Gardens, but they form an important part of the park's history. You can just make them out at the back right of the picture below.
Future developments include plans for a nightclub, ballroom, education space and the re-opening of the Dreamland art deco cinema complex - all helping to secure Dreamland as the sparkly vintage jewel in Margate's splendid crown!
You can find out more about Dreamland by visiting their website here.For some awesome places to stay in Margate (from retro and vintage pads to a prison-themed cell!) visit Host Unusual.