I recently had the offer to be a tourist in my own home county, and I’m so pleased that I agreed. I’ve said before how easy it is to overlook the place we live in and opt for trips around the world instead. I’m ashamed to say that I only visited Stonehenge a few years ago, having lived down the road from it for 25 years! So when asked to visit the City of Southampton, I jumped at the chance to discover more about the area that I live in.
It was the first weekend of the Summer Holidays, and I was heading straight for the Sea City Museum in Southampton. The first huge learning point was that The Titanic actually left Southampton to begin its fateful journey. Something I ignorantly had no idea about, despite growing up here. The Museum itself was full of exciting stories and fascinating history, it catered for everyone with a great little children’s area. Wilf was able to play dress-up or build his own city out of Duplo, whilst I perused the exhibitions nearby. It was a short walk around the Museum building to get to Southampton’s Art Gallery. The impressive architecture convinced me I was heading in the right direction. A building that holds Southampton’s Public Library also plays host to the Art Gallery, situated upstairs. It’s free of charge to enter and it really shouldn’t be missed. I’m no Art expert, but even I could appreciate the skill and the different styles on display. What also impressed me was the fantastic children’s section. Whether they were to read a book in the book corner, create their own art or do some ribbon weaving, they surely wouldn’t be bored. Both the Museum and the Gallery are perfect if visited together; it’s a very convenient location in the city centre and backs onto The Southampton Guildhall.
Our next stop was the infamous ‘Seaside In The Square’, back for another year by Go!Southampton and sponsored by Carnival UK. This three week event has over 100 free summer holiday activities. It has to be seen to be believed but if you head to The Guildhall Square you’ll find 70 tons of sand has been brought in to make this popular urban beach. Needless to say Wilfred was in his element, and headed straight for the children’s dedicated sand pit. I however, opted for a cocktail (courtesy of Orange Rooms) whilst sitting in a deckchair under the sun. Apart from the obvious draw of a beach in the middle of the city they host beach football for all ages, a surf simulator, live entertainment and many more family activities. My favourite had to be the giant inflatable Whale, used as a children story telling prop and organised by Southampton University to educate children on the dangers of plastic in the ocean.
By the middle of the afternoon both Wilf and I were exhausted, we headed straight to Room2 Southampton to check-in to the world’s first ‘Hometel’. Known as a hometel for its homely feel and convenience, giving its guests all the comforts of home with the luxuries of being in a hotel. Set up by two brothers, the first Room2 is situated in Hammersmith. Room2 Southampton has now been open for about a year and I can see why it’s so successful. We were checked-in by one of the ‘room mates’, a very friendly girl, no reception desk in sight, just an ipad. I loved the informal but efficient staff working here, everything was to the highest standard without it feeling stuffy and forced. After refreshments in The Living Room we headed straight up to our room. It was a large bright room, with the bed tucked into the bay window and a cot ready-made for Wilfred. All rooms came with a fully equipped kitchen and dining table so you could cook up a snack, just like you would at home – with the advantage of never having to do the washing up! The good sized bathroom already had all the amenities one would need, and if you forgot anything you only needed to head to The Pantry to purchase any food or hygiene products. What made it feel homely to me were all the little touches, for example the radio was playing when we walked in, a recipe book lay on the side in the kitchen, I could use chrome cast to watch Netflix on the TV from my devices, super-fast wifi throughout and there were 16 plug sockets! I always struggle to find more than 1 plug socket in a typical hotel room, and when you count your phone charger, laptop charger, camera and GoPro chargers it can be an endless game of ‘swapping devices’ to make sure they all get their fair share of power.
Having re-charged our own batteries we dusted off the sand from the beach and headed out to dinner in Ocean Village. A stone’s throw from the city centre lies a beautiful stretch of marina, lined with good food and lively bars. Banana Wharf kindly hosted us for the evening and had a fantastic children’s menu at a very reasonable price. I enjoyed squid whilst others had mussels and prawns, making the most of fresh seafood. One thing was for the sure; the children’s portions are rather large, after a long day of sightseeing Wilf was grateful when the food arrived. We all fueled up for our final stop of the day – Injoy. Injoy is the UK’s largest Children’s Activity Centre and only opened in Southampton 2 weeks ago. They offer everything from climbing walls, trampolining, soft play and more. You can opt to pay for individual sections or buy a bundle and let the children pop in and out of the different areas. It was the perfect way to burn off dinner and Wilf was straight into the soft play as if he had walked into Heaven itself. The other area we discovered was the Interactive Area, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The dark room has several projected screens on the walls, all of which are interactive activities that range from colouring to sports, to games. It was incredibly impressive and Wilf was engrossed in what must’ve seemed like some kind of magic to him.
By 20:30 (long past his usual bedtime) Wilfred was still in full swing, but it was time for us to head back and try to wind down for bed. Something I love about Room2 is that before your arrival you are given the choice of either a soft or a hard mattress to ensure you have the most comfortable sleep. We quickly got back to our room, got into PJs and Wilf had some warm milk whilst having his stories. We both slept like babies that night, and awoke to the smell of fresh coffee coming from downstairs. I was able to make myself a drink in the kitchen and Wilf had some fruit whilst we got ready to go for breakfast.
Breakfast was a modern buffet-style with a twist. You could make your own Waffles! A waffle maker with the mixture already made, was the coolest addition to a hotel buffet I have ever seen. As expected you could get the usual continental fruits, pastries and cereals, but they also offer bacon, sausages, hash browns and beans for those looking for something extra. Everything was so carefully thought out and it did almost feel like going into my kitchen at home and sitting down to a relaxed breakfast with Wilf.
The excellent breakfast fueled us up for a big day at PAULTONS PARK! Home to the world-renowned Peppa Pig World. Paultons Park is a well-known Family Theme Park on the border of Hampshire and Wiltshire. It opened its doors in 1983 and has been owned by the Mancey family ever since. I remember going as a little girl myself back in the early 90s. Today, however, it is ever growing and changing to keep up with rival parks. The creation of Peppa Pig World has been a huge draw to the park and is easily one of the busiest areas. We arrived nice and early to make the most of an exciting day. We took a few rides at Peppa Pig World before the crowds came and then moved around the park to find more toddler-friendly rides. I must urge people to explore the whole park as it’s easy with little ones to get stuck with Peppa Pig and forget how much else there is to see. Wilf and I love Critter Creek with its train rides and bug burrows. Further on you can find a fantastic tractor ride, right next to a little boat ride. Even in The Lost Kingdom there are suitable rides and my favourite of the day was the Dinosaur Tour in a yellow explorer truck. Wilf was also completely absorbed when they brought out a rather large T-Rex and put on a show for the children.
We enjoyed a lovely lunch at The Wild Forest Café and I was pleased to see throughout the park the great facilities for babies and infants. Almost every eatery and baby changing block had a microwave for bottles and baby food. There were specific baby feeding areas for those looking for more privacy, and my all time favourite the ‘Lost Child Stickers’. With Wilfred ignoring everything I say at the moment and running much faster than I can, I always make sure he has the Lost Child Sticker on his back with my phone number on. It certainly gives me some piece of mind. They can be found at the First Aid Center near the main entrance. It’s also a place that can store any medicines that need to be refrigerated.
The day flew by in a mix of excitement and exhaustion. We made it back to Peppa Pig World at 15:15 to meet Peppa and George outside Madam Gazelles School House, I’m not sure Wilf could quite believe what he was seeing. It was like they had just jumped right out of the TV unit itself. The whole day was worth it if only to see their little faces when they were surrounded by their favourite characters.
Our mini-break to Southampton was a success and I never realised just how much it had to offer families until I went myself. There was so much more to see, the history, the new Cinema complex, The Mayflower Theatre and of course the most fabulous shopping at West Quay. Southampton is a great getaway for any family looking for a cultural adventure!