'I went snorkelling with sharks this weekend!' I told my colleagues.
'Where was that? We didn't realise you went on holiday?'
'I did,' I replied. 'To Blackpool.' '...Blackpool!?'
Yes, that 'tacky', 'trashy' seaside town commonly known for being the backdrop of debaucherous hen and stag weekends. A friend recently told me no one lives in Blackpool unless they recently got divorced, let alone visit voluntarily (house prices are apparently reasonable for newly singles).
He wasn't alone in his impoliteness. A Strictly Come Dancing professional made the front page last week for likening the resort to a shanty town. But ignoring the premise of murky antics of drunkards and supposedly even murkier sea views, I decided to commit to three days in Lancashire with my two young cousins. My dad grew up there and loved it, so I took a chance.
En route to the Hilton, I prepared to shield the children's eyes from any obscenities over the next few days. Instead, we had a glorious, fun weekend which each one of us thoroughly enjoyed. No one said Blackpool was St Tropez. There are still things which are far from Instagram-worthy.
Like when I discovered several empty bottles of booze under the bed from a previous guest. Or when we were told seats at breakfast were first come first served - and they don't actually have enough for all the guests. But it's undeniably enjoyable. Nowadays the sand beach is pristine and the familiar coastal scenes were comforting. Here are some of our recommendations for the family.
Something of an historical institute, Blackpool Tower stands at 518 feet tall and if you want to know just how high that is, you can stand on a glass walkway at the top and dare to look down. When the children were done stamping on the glass to frighten each other, they were whisked off downstairs to take their seats ring-side at the Tower circus.
I found the performance more nerve-wracking than fun as acrobatics flew across the centre circle from the arms of one person to another, but the clown was always there to soften the blow.
My partner and I were far more enthused by the thought of a prosecco afternoon tea in the ballroom, but the exquisite room actually delighted the two children as much as the circus. It could have been the giant slabs of cake or the way the entire table shook as couples took to the ballroom floor to waltz, tango and skip...but they were transfixed and occasionally giggling at the confident strides of dancers.
Blackpool Pleasure Beach
The Pleasure Beach is a truly retro theme park. OK, it's old, but it's good enough to deserve retro status. Wooden rides, penny machines (no 10 pence coins, hurrah!), traditional seaside snacks and seagulls aplenty. There are a lot of new things to explore too - there is a new Nickelodeon land complete with new rides.
After we clattered along the classics like The Grand National and felt the true vigour of the wooden Big Dipper, we loop-the-looped and whizzed backwards on the new thrillers.
We had the miracle of choosing a sweltering hot weekend and also took shelter from the queues at midday by seeing the Hot Ice Show. Despite none of us being huge fans of Dancing on Ice, it was a short burst of dazzling colours and sequins where some real talent was on show.
SEA LIFE Blackpool
This is where one of the family's trip highlights took place. The shark snorkeling. Who could pass up the opportunity to do this when you don't have to pay a fortune to fly somewhere else? Our marine specialist was excellent in making us (me) feel very relaxed whilst explaining that we shouldn't put our fingers through the net as the fishes like stray fingers.
After that, it was a quick guide to who is who in the tank and then we were in wetsuits and standing above the bubbling surface, ready to clamber down the ladder and in. We were slowly lowered in a loosely netted section and told they should be 'really active now' as it's near food time.
It was hard to tell if I was more anxious about the sharks or about being in full view of the vast hoards of half-term holiday families pointing at us in the tanks they were all oggling into.
The different species of shark nudged the netting as they swam around us, gliding towards us and staring us square in the face before plunging downwards. It was frightening and fascinating, an absolute winner with the children too. After all the usual aquarium experience would be to politely wait for kids to move so your children can peer at the seahorses.
Notarianni Ice Cream Blackpool
This place only serves vanilla ice cream. Sound disappointing? I initially thought so. For the oldest ice cream parlour (the family opened it in 1928), limiting themselves to just one flavour seems strange. We were proven wrong. It is well worth a quick visit just to see how many ways they can vary vanilla, with sauces and topping lists as long as your arm. As he served us the thickest portion with a generous pouring of toppings, he said only he knew the recipe alongside his dad - and it would stay that way. I asked no more, but instead took a mouthful.
Moody silver-purple lighting and with panoramic views of the sea, you could easily mistake it for somewhere on Made in Chelsea and surprisingly they were fine with having two slightly whiney, tired children there. I was content at the choice for vegetarians and although I just wanted a chip butty on the beach, I settled for a mediterranean spread which made for a refined evening. One of few places I felt was beautiful in setting, reasonably priced and good for all the family for options.
By the end of the trip, we realised we had left out quite a lot which was still possible with our Blackpool resort pass. We hadn't been to the Model Village or the zoo and there were still cultural elements such as the Grundy Art Gallery and the infamous Illuminations to see until November 4.
The kids didn't want to leave. And much to the surprise of some of the colleagues I told, neither did I. It wasn't the glossiest of beach holidays. But in it's own rustic way, it really did have it all.