Family Travel Times

Family Travel Times

Wednesday 15 April 2020

The Virtual Escape Game

By Robert, aged 14:

Hello, and welcome back to our blog: Family Times! (We’re not travelling that much at the moment) Last year we went to Chicago and one of the best things we did was going to The Escape Game escape rooms and trying out The Heist – you can read about it here. An escape room is when you and a group of friends or family are stuck inside a building and, oh wait – that’s just quarantine. We all really enjoyed The Heist so when mum told us about a virtual sequel, we were very excited.

For only $10 a “room”, The Heist is an absolute steal – get it? You download a folder of files onto your computer and log into the website; then you use the various links, files and resources to solve the clues and move onto the next sections. In the one we played, Volume I, we were tasked with identifying an art thief, working out his next move and finding his current location. Unlike an actual escape room there are no clues that someone pushed off the table or plug sockets to study intensely, instead there are just lots of fun, clever and logical puzzles to decipher – we didn’t even use any hints.

[caption id="attachment_4659" align="aligncenter" width="570"] A selection of evidence files we had to use[/caption]

We spent over two hours playing this escape room, so it was well worth the money and not particularly easy. There were some good clues to solve and the initial section where you had to search through multiple evidence files was really clever. Also we managed to get right to the end without getting stumped until we found a telephone number which we assumed was a code. Nope, it was just a telephone number which you had to ring (which we didn’t because it was American).

If you’re ever feeling bored in the coming weeks, scrap that, when you’re ever feeling bored in the coming weeks I would definitely recommend trying out one of The Escape Game’s virtual escape rooms as it was a really fun way to pass the time and really well-made.

The Heist - Vol.1 is available for $10 at

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday 8 March 2020

Waiter, there's a murder in my soup: immersive theatre in London

[caption id="attachment_4619" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Actors in Water There's a Murder in My Soup gathering around the piano The actors sang, dance and acted so well![/caption]


This weekend we found an unusual way to have fun in London - theatre and dining all at the same time! Here's what we got up to, from Robert, aged 14 and Jess, aged 18.

Robert says:

Mum, Jess and I found ourselves about to hear the legendary prima donna Marchioness du Jour perform; people would kill to hear her sing! However, we never actually got to see her in the flesh as she was found dead minutes before her scheduled performance. Detective Susan Gusset was on the case and what followed was an afternoon of clue solving, music and fine dying. The restaurant at the Troubadour theatre, a group of eccentric suspects and a three course meal: these could only be the ingredients for an immersive whodunnit and a recipe, for success.

I’m a huge fan of immersive theatre and Waiter, There’s a murder in my soup was a brilliant afternoon out. Transported back to the 1940s, Mum, Jess and I followed Susan Gusset as she unravelled the murder of the Marchioness du Jour, and found out who did it. The play – including songs – took part around the meal, which meant you could chat, and try to solve the mystery, between courses. We were given a case file to work things out and the whole performance was really different to anything we’d seen before.

[caption id="attachment_4621" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Robert and Jess reading the case notes for the Murder Mystery Robert and Jess read the case notes[/caption]
The food:

Further adding to the experience was the meal, which was truly delicious. There was a great array of options (including vegan) and I decided on the roasted squash soup, seabass and chocolate fudge brownie sundae. The play was performed in an actual restaurant so it was no surprise how good it was; you could say the food was to die for.

[caption id="attachment_4622" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Delicious desserts at Waiter there's a murder in my soup Delicious desserts![/caption]

In conclusion we all really enjoyed Waiter, There’s a murder in my soup. The whole cast was entertaining and I particularly liked the Irish priest who kept popping up behind me. The actual whodunit was good, as was the food and all in all it was a great, and unusual way to spend an afternoon in London.

Jess says:

I'd never been to a piece of immersive theatre before, so I wasn't really sure what to expect. I was ready to spend an afternoon ducking people's gazes, out of fear of being involved! Luckily, I was not picked upon and I had a really fantastic time.

[caption id="attachment_4624" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Antonio Fingerelli - one of the suspects Antonio Fingerelli - one of the suspects[/caption]


"Waiter, there's a murder in my soup" managed to combine two of my favourite things - theatre and food. It seems no surprise that I really enjoyed the experience. The plot was interesting, the play was well acted, and all three of us laughed throughout. I loved that we were sitting in the restaurant - essentially part of the set. This meant that the actors interacted with us, asked us questions, and we could see them up close. It definitely felt more engaging than a normal play or musical.
The food:

The Studio 5ive restaurant is a real restaurant, so the food was delicious. All three of us really enjoyed our various courses between the play's acts, and I had a particularly lovely mushroom wellington.

[caption id="attachment_4623" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Mushroom Wellington Jess enjoyed her Mushroom Wellington[/caption]

Overall, I had a really enjoyable time at "Waiter, there's a murder in my soup". The play was funny, the food was great, and it was an exciting, lighthearted way to spend an afternoon. I would definitely recommend it.

Disclosure: We were given a pair of complimentary tickets to see Waiter, there's a murder in my soup (and we purchased a third one!), but no one from the company had any input into this blog post.

Waiter there's a murder in my soup is on until 19th March. Tickets cost £49.50 including a three course meal (Tue - Thu), £55.00 including a three course meal (Fri - Sun), £19.50 for the show only (no food included with this ticket) (Tue - Thu)  or £25 show only (no food included with this ticket) (Fri - Sun).

I should also say that this all happens in Wembley, which has so much to offer now - there are loads of shops and things to do in the area and the restaurant we went to (see below!) is less than five minutes from Wembley Park station (Metropolitan and Jubilee Line).



Labels: , , , , , ,

Sunday 3 November 2019

Museums and views in Chicago

[caption id="attachment_4602" align="alignnone" width="1024"]The Family in Millennium Park Us at Millennium Park[/caption]

As you will know if you read the blog posts by Jess and Robert, we spent a wonderful week in Chicago this summer. They have both written posts on what they particularly enjoyed and now it's my turn!

It seems pointless to go over the same ground that my children did! After all, I too loved the Escape Room (which Robert writes about in detail in this blog post) and the brilliant Chicago-themed Mini Golf. And, although I'm not a teen, I especially loved the bike tour which Jess describes, the trip to the beach and comedy at Second City. But there was also a lot more that we did, and which I am going to share with you here.....

A city of beauty

Chicago is, as both my children said, beautiful. It's a gorgeous place for a city-based holiday, and enhanced by the fact that it has extras you would never normally connect with a bustling metropolis - like its own beaches. It's also blessed with magnificent museums and other must-dos.

And fabulous views

I always love a view when I visit a city and in Chicago, we found that the best viewing point was the Skydeck at the Willis Tower (once known as the Sears Tower) which is the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere, at 1,353 feet. We headed there after a busy day out, doing our cycling tour, and a quick walk along Navy Pier, which is also great for views of the city (and snacks!).

Sarah at the Sky Deck in ChicagoWe arrived at the Willis Tower as the sun was starting to go down. We headed up to the 103rd floor via a speedy lift, before walking around and enjoying the views of the city from up high. We decided to queue up to wait to use one of the glass bottomed viewing panels - called "The Ledge"  - which are basically boxes which take you about four and a half feet from the Skydeck, and were blessed with some wonderful views and colours as the sun went down. We had to wait around 30 minutes and I'm not sure if I would have done this if I had been with young children. However, it was absolutely worth it for us as I loved walking onto the platform and soaking up the views.

Amazing views from Willis Tower

Amazing art (and architecture)

I knew that Chicago was home to some terrific art and, if you have any interest in art or architecture, this is a brilliant place to visit. The buildings are stunning and we would recommend a guided boat trip to fully immerse yourself. We used the Shoreline Sightseeing Architecture Tour and had a wonderful 75 minutes relaxing on the Chicago river while our guide, Kyle, told us everything we needed to know. It was absolutely worth doing - and we learnt a lot.

[caption id="attachment_4600" align="alignnone" width="1024"]One of the amazing views from the Chicago architecture boat tour One of the amazing views from the Chicago architecture boat tour[/caption]

We also visited the Art Institute of Chicago - and it is mind-blowing. Not only does it host such world-famous paintings as American Gothic and Nighthawks, but it also has some incredible Impressionists (it hosts the largest Impressionist collection outside Paris) and modern art, not to mention some beautiful Chagall paintings and much, much more, including whole galleries on ancient Greece and Africa. Its collections cover hundreds of years of art, and I would have stayed longer but my children had had their fill after a couple of hours!

[caption id="attachment_4601" align="alignnone" width="1024"]Brian by the "Bean" in Millennium Park in Chicago, as seen on the Family Travel Times blog Brian by the "Bean" in Millennium Park in Chicago - as recommended by all guide books![/caption]

The Art Institute is right near Millennium Park, which is huge and wonderful. Do go there to visit Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate (known more colloquially as "the Bean") as it's really a must-do and a wonderful piece of art. In fact, there is art that you can just come upon across the city, including a mural by Chagall and other works by Miro, Calder and a wonderful piece which spurted out water called Crowne Fountain by Jaume Plensa. We discovered many of these on a terrific Chicago Greeter guided tour with a wonderful man called Bill. These tours (on any kind of topic you like)  are all free and organised by the city. Bill wouldn't even take a tip!

And natural history and science and industry

Another museum I would highly recommend was the Field Museum, which is Chicago's Museum of Natural History. This is brilliant for kids and adults, and unlike its equivalent in London, it wasn't too manic or chock-full of guests.

The museum has so many things for you to do - we visited the "brilliant bugs" exhibit and glanced at a number of others, including the hall of gems (which was very impressive). But what was really amazing was the dinosaurs, as this museum hosts SUE, the biggest and most complete T-Rex skeleton in the world! It is really astonishing, and the whole exhibit is done brilliantly, with many other fossils, dinosaur skeletons and excellent explanations which take you right through history.

[caption id="attachment_4605" align="alignnone" width="1024"]SUE - the skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex SUE - the skeleton of a tyrannosaurus rex[/caption]

The final museum we visited in Chicago was the Museum of Science and Industry. We had heard great things about this place and it was highly recommended by my friends who live in the city.

The first thing to say about it is that it is absolutely huge! There is masses to see, and there are also a number of extras (many of which cost more money) such as a coal mine or 4D films. I have a feeling that this is a museum which you would need to visit over and over again, but we were impressed (although many of the exhibits did seem dated).

[caption id="attachment_4606" align="alignnone" width="1024"]A newborn chick which we saw hatch! A newborn chick which we saw hatch![/caption]

The genetics section, where you could see chicks being born was amazing, while we also enjoyed the "Science Storms" section - watching tornados blow up around you was an experience. Seeing a real u-boat was remarkable (we didn't pay extra to go on, just looked from the outside) and we enjoyed the Mirror Maze and "You the Experience" too, although not all of the objects worked properly. I also explored Colleen Moore's fairy castle, which is like something you'd see in Las Vegas (I said it was a museum with lots of different parts!).

There are loads more museums in Chicago and also loads more to do overall. We had planned a visit to the Shedd Aquarium, but in the end we simply ran out of time, what with all the other places we went to, and the endless eating and general exploring. It is a beautiful place, which offers so much to people of all ages. We'd highly recommend a holiday there!

Disclosure: We were gifted a CityPASS for Chicago which gave us free entry into the Skydeck, Art Institute, Field Museum and Museum of Science and Industry. CityPASS had no input whatsoever into this blog post, but we did think it was great having a pass which meant we could skip queues and visit places we might not have considered otherwise (like the Museum of Natural History). A CityPASS lasts for nine days and can also be used for the Adler Planetarium and the Shedd Aquarium. It costs $108 per adult and $89 per child, which works out as a lot less than if you visited the attractions and paid at each one individually.

Don't forget to read Robert's post on Chicago and Jess's on what's best for teens.


Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday 5 October 2019

5 things to do with teens in Chicago

By Jess, aged 17:

Over summer, our family spent the most amazing week in Chicago. Though very full on, we all had a fantastic time, and there is not one activity which I didn't enjoy. Chicago is a genuinely beautiful city; busy but not too loud or congested. There were things to do for all the family, and here are my highlights from the trip, which I think teenagers would particularly enjoy.


I had really wanted to go to a baseball match as I felt it was a typical American thing to do. Instead of watching the more famous Chicago Cubs, we opted for the White Sox, and I had a really fantastic time. Unlike football games in the UK, the atmosphere was much more relaxed, with people walking around the whole time. I definitely enjoyed this, as I can get very stressed when watching live sports!

[caption id="attachment_4559" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]White Sox Chicago We really enjoyed watching the Chicago White Sox![/caption]

Despite never playing baseball before, the people sitting around us were more than willing to explain what was going on, and I found myself getting very engaged with the game. The experience felt very American, with an audience cam, lots of adverts for pizza, a fill in the song lyric game, and everyone standing up and singing "Take me out to the ball game" between the seventh and eight innings.

There were other activities in the stadium as well, such a speed pitching test and a free interactive centre for kids. Mum and I collected free badges and certificates to commemorate our first visit to the stadium, and the people sitting behind us were generous enough to give us White Sox temporary tattoos and t-shirts.

I would definitely recommend baseball games to people visiting the US - not only was the game exciting, but I loved getting a taste of what it's like to be a real American. Mum says that it was expensive though - and we were all shocked by the cost of the food and drink inside the stadium (a bottle of Pepsi was over $6!)

Our tickets to the baseball cost around $50 (they were more expensive because we chose to be under cover - a good decision, as it was very hot!).

Second City

Second City is a famous sketch and improvisational comedy troupe, known for producing stars such as Tina Fey and Steve Carell. I am a huge fan of SNL, and it was especially exciting spotting lots of famous names in the programme we were given. Our family saw a production named "Grinning from Fear to Fear", which included two sets of sketches and an improvisational section.

I thought the production was hilarious, and unlike anything I'd seen before. Ranging from meeting your girlfriend's parents to sleepless late night anxieties, the production was very well done, and I laughed more times than I can count. They also used a lot of suggestions from the audience and even brought people up onto stage.

This was definitely one of the highlights of my holiday.

Second City is not for younger children - the show we went to started at 8pm and didn't finish until nearly 11 and there was quite a lot of swearing in it. Tickets cost $52 each.

Cycling food tour

Cycling isn't something we do very often, so I was somewhat terrified at the prospect of cycling around busy Chicago streets. However, I shouldn't have worried: our Bikes, Bites and Brews tour with Bobby's Bike Hike was great. Our guide Ro was extremely friendly and enthusiastic, and she toured us for 13 miles across Chicago.

[caption id="attachment_4560" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]Bobby's Bike Hike Chicago We loved all the food on our cycling tour with Bobby's Bike Hike, and the views were great too![/caption]

We sampled pizza, cupcakes, hot dogs, and drinks from all across Chicago, learning a lot about the city in the process. A particular highlight was eating delicious deep dish pizza from Lou Malnati's, and spending half an hour cycling down a cycle path right next to Lake Michigan. The views were brilliant, and it was very relaxing. The tour was both interesting and exciting, and we definitely wouldn't have had the confidence to ride around Chicago without a guide. The city was easy to ride around and the views were gorgeous.

I would definitely recommend cycling around Chicago, and there are lots of places to rent bikes from. Though we wouldn't have been able to navigate the streets by ourselves, the cycle path by the lake boasted brilliant views and was easy to make our way around.

This Bobby's Bikes, Bites and Brews cycling tour costs $66.75 for adults and $61.75 for students (Mondays to Thursdays) and lasts four hours. 

Disclosure: We were gifted the opportunity of taking part in Bobby's Bike Hire, the Bikes, Bites and Brews tour, in order to write about it. However, the company had no input whatsoever into this blog post.

Escape room

Our whole family loved going to an escape room at The Escape Game Chicago. Though only an hour long, our experience probably provided us with the most fun of anything we did over the holiday. Our challenge was called "The Heist", and our challenge was to retrieve a painting from the office of a man accused of stealing it.

[caption id="attachment_4557" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]The Escape Game Chicago We were pleased to find the painting with only two minutes to go![/caption]

I've been to three other escape rooms before, but this one was definitely the best. It was so well maintained, and some of the parts were genius. It was very difficult, but definitely not unmanageable or frustrating, and we were pleased to escape with two minutes remaining!

Escape rooms can be found all over the world and there are a copious amount in the UK alone, but I would recommend doing this one if you're in Chicago. We all had a fantastic time.

Read Rob's post on the Escape Game (he really loved it too!)
The Heist at the Escape Game costs $35.99 per person.


Chicago is particularly special as it is on Lake Michigan, so there are a copious number of beaches to relax on. We were all struck by the sheer size of the water - it seemed unfathomable that it was only a lake and not the sea! We went to the North Avenue beach, which was great as it was quiet, and there was a lot of space to sit down and unwind.

[caption id="attachment_4561" align="aligncenter" width="1024"]North Avenue Beach, Chicago Looking out to Lake Michigan on North Avenue Beach[/caption]

The water was ridiculously cold, but we appreciated that it wasn't salty like the sea. It also didn't get deep quickly, providing ample space for wading in the water and swimming. Chicago's beaches are especially notable as its gorgeous skyline is behind the lake, leading to gorgeous views wherever you look.

Overall, Chicago is a perfect place for teenagers, and I honestly enjoyed every aspect of the trip. Aside from these five highlights, there were so many other fantastic attractions, making the city perfect for all the family. I enjoyed incredible views of the city at the top of the Sears Tower, saw chicks being born at the Museum of Science and Industry, and looked at the largest T-Rex ever found at the Field Museum. Even activities which sounded boring, such as an architecture boat tour, were fascinating!

It may not a common holiday destination for those of us in the UK, but our trip to Chicago was great - both for the adults and the teens.

Read Rob's post on his two favourite activities: 

We also found useful information on the Choose Chicago website and the Enjoy Illinois website.

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Saturday 14 September 2019

The best ever escape room and mini golf in Chicago

[caption id="attachment_4568" align="alignnone" width="1200"]The family after beating the clock at the Escape room Success![/caption]

By Robert, aged 14:

During the recent summer holidays my family and I decided not to exercise and get a typical summer body. Instead we opted to go  to America so our physique could resemble the jellybeans we learnt about on the Jelly Belly factory tour in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin (about an hour and a half from our base in Chicago). But whilst we gained pounds (and lost them at the currency exchange), the week we spent in Chicago was brilliant. I’ve been asked the question “What was your favourite bit?” multiple times since we got back from and every time I’ve replied with the same answer: “The escape room.” 

The Escape Game 

I’d been to three escape rooms in my life previous to this Chicago holiday and I had loved going every time. The one we went to in Chicago was run by the company The Escape GameOn offer at the venue we visited were five different experiences which varied in difficulty: Gold Rush, Mission: Mars, Special Ops: Mysterious Market, Prison Break and of course my favourite of all the ones I’ve done: The Heist. Unlike any escape room that I’ve partaken in before, this one actually had a proper storyline. Before we started, we were shown a video explaining our situation (that we were proving a dodgy art dealer to be a fake by stealing a painting) and this really made the next hour more exciting and fun. 

Poster of The Heist

The rooms themselves were immaculately designed, they actually looked like what they were meant to be: a gallery, an office. There were no clues or objects that seemed out of place, which really made you feel like you were in the story. Also, in the British escape rooms that I’ve been to there have been many worn out props or creased laminated pages of which their sole purpose was to be a clue. The clues and rooms at The Escape Game were all in great condition, there were absolutely no puzzles that were just simply written on pieces of paper. 

[caption id="attachment_4570" align="alignnone" width="1200"]A room in The Heist at The Escape Room in Chicago, The rooms were so intricate - beautifully designed[/caption]


We managed to escape the room with under three minutes to spare and having only used about six  prompts or clues – which we used almost all in haste during the last few minutes! Unlike the typical find some numbers and open up a cupboard with a padlock puzzles which we were used to, The Heist would reveal something after we completed a sequence. An object or clue would appear on the floor or the table without us doing anything so it was really cool. 

[caption id="attachment_4567" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Pic from The Heist at The Escape Room in Chicago, We had to rescue this fake picture (it took us a while to find it!)[/caption]

Overall I thought the whole thing was genius and I ended up repeating “that was so cool” over and over for the majority of the day! The storyline and unique puzzles made the experience thoroughly enjoyable, fast-paced and exciting. There were multiple times (which I can’t mention in detail or else it will spoil them) that were outstanding and we keep talking about. I hope that, without mentioning anything about the clues or puzzles, I have conveyed how awesome this escape room was as we all thought it was brilliant and would definitely go back again. If only it wasn't so far away....

The Escape Game Chicago is located in River North and costs $35.99 per player, although there are often offers if you look out for them! 

City Mini Golf 

Playing the Chicago Cubs hole at City Mini Golf in Chicago

Another unique experience that we all really enjoyed was playing a round at City Mini Golf which is located in the beautiful Maggie Daley Park. The crazy golf course started off as a popup created by school teacher Rob Long, but then it became so popular that it has now become a permanent attraction at the park and was voted Chicago’s #1 Miniature Golf Course. 

Rob - who we actually met on the day that we went to have a game - makes all the holes himself and every year he expands the designs of the less exciting one. He told us that he already has many ideas for this winter meaning if you visit it will be even better than we went – and we really enjoyed it!  The setting for the game is lovely, with greenery all around you in the park and an open view of the amazing Chicago city skyline.  

The holes themselves were extremely innovative and unique as we had to putt the ball through or around intricately made models of Chicago landmarks: The Willis Tower, China town and even a miniature replica of Picasso’s Chicago Sculpture – as well as loads more.

[caption id="attachment_4576" align="alignnone" width="1200"] You can see the new China Town hole in the background![/caption]

I’ve been to quite a few mini-golf courses in my life and I’ve got to say that the NBA themed hole at City Mini Golf was one of the best I’ve ever played. You had to hit the ball up a ramp and land it in a basketball net which dropped it into tube facing the hole, it was so cool. At the end of the 18 hole course you get to put your ball into a game and if it lands in a certain place you win a free round. Out of the four of us we actually won this once meaning it’s not that hard to get another go at an already extremely good-value attraction. The balls were colourful and painted with designs, the holes were brilliantly crafted and overall it was a great place to come and have a fun time in Chicago. 

[caption id="attachment_4577" align="alignnone" width="768"]By the Chicago Bulls hole Mum by the brilliant Chicago Bulls hole[/caption]

City Mini Golf is located in the middle of Maggie Daley Park, just five minutes from the amazing Cloud Gate (the Bean)! It is open Monday-Thursday, and Sunday from 11-8 and on Fridays and Saturdays from 10am-9pm. It costs $11 per person, but if you live locally, you can get a whole season pass for $32!

Further reading:

NEW! Read about how we took part in a virtual escape room (but did we escape?)

NEW! Read Jess's account of our trip to Chicago, with her tips for teens.

Read about our trip to a London escape room, ClueQuest

Read about our trip to the biggest mini golf course in Europe

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday 11 August 2019

The Titanic in Southampton: a visit to the SeaCity museum

Last week I found myself in Southampton for the day (as you do). My first thought was that I must go to the Tudor House (as some of you might know, I love history - and especially the 16th Century). Unfortunately, this is closed on Fridays - and of course that's the day I was there. So, I moved onto plan B, to find out about the Titanic, and it was a good decision...

[caption id="attachment_4533" align="alignnone" width="1200"]The outside of the Tudor House, Southampton This is the Tudor House - it certainly looked lovely from the outside![/caption]

Instead of the Tudor house (which I did visit to see it from the outside), I went to the lovely SeaCity Museum, which is a real gem of a place. It has a number of permanent exhibits as well as a little shop and lovely cafe. Helpfully, it also has lockers for large bags (you have to pay for these, but mine only cost a few pounds).

The exhibit which caught my attention, and which I spent a lovely hour and a half or so being fascinated by, was one on the Titanic. This was extremely well done, educational, interactive and sad. Plus, it was definitely worth the £8.50 entrance fee (£6 for kids).

Sign for the Titanic Exhibition

The Titanic set off from Southampton

Although you may associate the Titanic with Belfast, it actually set off from Southampton. This means that many of those who worked on the ship lived in the Southampton area. In fact almost 409 of the ships crew lived in Chapel and Northam, two of the poorest distracts in Southampton, and of the 897 crew members, three quarters were living in Southampton in the days before the ship set sail.

Bringing the people to life

The exhibition is very good at personalising the experience. It gives you background of a number of those who were on the "unsinkable" ship, from the second officer, Charles Herbert Lightoller, to the first class Stewardesss Mabel Bennett, who was only 30 then, but already a widow, with a young daughter she had to leave behind (of course, she was paid less then than the male stewards). You don't know what happened to all these people until near the end, by which time you have built up a relationship with them. It's very clever.

Life in Southampton in 1912

The exhibit begins with an explanation of what it was like in Southampton at that time - the divide between rich and poor, the ongoing strikes and the numbers of unemployed (17,000 in April 1912). Many of the locals had never been to sea before, but were very happy about the opportunities that the Titanic brought.

You then walk across a bridge as if you are walking onto the Titanic - and there's sound effects to make it all sound that much more realistic.

[caption id="attachment_4535" align="alignnone" width="1200"]A carved wooden panel from the ship's grand staircase A carved wooden panel from the top of the Olympic ship's grand staircase - the Titanic had one just like it[/caption]

There are clothes to try on and people to find out about, as well as letters from those on the ship and details of all the provisions on board. There is also a beautiful recreation of what the grand staircase looked like - just like the film in fact!

You learn about lots of little details (first class passengers had use of a lift to go from deck to deck) and can also try out shovelling coal (hard work - I was not very good!) and steering the ship.

Tragedy struck

[caption id="attachment_4536" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Steward Sidney Sedunary was carrying this watch in this pocket - it's stopped at 1.50, about half an hour before the Titanic sinks. His watch was recovered when his body was found.[/caption]

It was just before midnight on April 14 1912 that the Titanic struck the iceberg. No one was prepared for what followed - and more than 1500 people died when the ship sank, in less than three hours.

The exhibition is particularly good at giving you an idea of what happened and the scale of the deaths. There is a room where you can sit and listen to the audio of those who survived and it's very moving. For example, you hear Eva Hart, who was then 7, say of her father: "He told me to hold my mummy's hand and be a good girl and that was it. I never saw him again."

After being "on" the ship, you go into a courtroom where you can listen to the voices of actors recreating the hearing into what happened and some of the experts asking questions. Some of these questions and answers are shocking - the lookout man saying there were no binoculars on board, and that if there had been he could have seen the iceberg earlier and the ship could have got out of the way. There were also no searchlights. There are newspapers from the time to look at and telegrams giving both good and bad news "regret, not saved," one widow is told.

[caption id="attachment_4537" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Floor map with dots for those who died This map contains red dots which mark the address of a member of the Titanic's crew who was lost when the ship sank[/caption]

The exhibit is extremely good and definitely captured the interest of both adults and children making their way around it. I felt it gave a different view on what happened on the Titanic and made it personal and extremely moving. I went round more slowly than if I had been with a young child, but the children I saw did seem engaged in it all, especially the interactive parts.

More Southampton history

SeaCity has more than this exhibit though - there is one on Southampton as a Gateway to the World, which gives you background on the many people who have come to the area from all over the world (this is excellent) and another on Southampton's Stories, which showcases different topics such as work, pastimes and working life. It's a lovely museum, very hands-on, and I would recommend it wholeheartedly.

The SeaCity museum is located right near the historic clock tower, Havelock Road, Southampton, SO14 7FY. Its the BBC South studios.

It's open 10-5pm seven days a week and costs £8.50 per adult, or £25 for a family ticket - two adults and up to three children.

More English Cities:

What to do in Norwich (by all of us).

Beautiful Lincoln

A football trip to Manchester

Labels: , , , , , , ,

Sunday 28 July 2019

What to do on a family holiday in Dorset

[caption id="attachment_4502" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Us at the beautiful Durdle Door[/caption]

Robert, who's 14, is back to tell you about our summer family holiday in Dorset - a place we would highly recommend.

Over to him:

"At the beginning of the summer holidays my parents and I drove to Dorset for a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable week-long visit. We stayed in a cottage around a ten-minute drive from Weymouth. It had two rooms, a bathroom with a shower, a kitchen area, living room and basically everything you would want in a living accommodation. It was a lovely place to relax in the evening; reading books, watching TV and playing games. 


[caption id="attachment_4504" align="alignnone" width="1200"] On Weymouth Beach[/caption]

To say Weymouth is busy on a summer weekend is a huge understatement. Parking was hard to come by (although we did find a space every time) and the beaches and streets were bustling with locals and tourists alike. However, it never felt too crowded and there weren’t long queues for refreshments or long waits to get a meal. The beach was lovely – we rented deckchairs for £2 each – and spent a good few hours there on our first day. The sea was amazing to paddle, wade and swim in as there were basically no waves at all - due to the natural defences at Chesil beach.  

There are so many places to get an ice-cream or slushie in Weymouth and even more places to get yourself a quick lunch in the afternoon. Be warned though: a majority of the cafes and shops close relatively early and on our first night we found ourselves wandering the streets for a while before deciding on getting food to heat up at home. Weymouth and the surrounding area is not short of massive supermarkets and we had dinner in our cottage every night bar one, so the shops closing early is not a major problem. 

Chesil Beach 

[caption id="attachment_4505" align="alignnone" width="1200"] The stunning Chesil Beach[/caption]

After relaxing in the sand on Weymouth’s coastline we drove about twenty minutes to a completely different type of beach. Chesil beach is the largest tombolo in the UK and is 28 kilometres of pure pebbles which increase in size as you move across. The stretch is classified as a Heritage site so you are not allowed to take any rocks home with you although you can obviously pick them up. The sheer size of the beach was impressive and it was a beautiful to go and have a look at. There is a great exhibition about the beach inside the visitor centre with lots of things to touch and look at including fossils, animal bones and millions of years old rocks. For a free attraction I would definitely recommend going, if only to have a quick look. 

[caption id="attachment_4506" align="alignnone" width="900"] One of the exhibits at the Chesil Beach Visitor Centre[/caption]


The next day we set out on a cycling trip organised by Jurassic Trails. We got our bikes and helmets then proceeded to begin our journey down the many cycle lanes and general streets in the area. We got lost almost straight away, we’ll blame it on the lack of clear signs, and ended up following a route we made up using the map we were given. We then lost Dad and pulled over but ended up stumbling across a strange sculpture, so really Mum and I came out of the loss pretty well. It was fun and exhilarating cycling around Dorset, although my bottom and legs were aching by the end of it. Even after a lot of wrong turns and small pavements that we walked down with our bikes it was still a thoroughly enjoyable day and cycling up and down the seafront near Bowleaze was one of the highlights of the trip. Although this bears no relevance to this post you may be amused to read that we went cycling on the day of what I can only assume to be some sort of Dorset Marathon which brought the difficulty level up significantly when cycling down the lanes shared for both walking and biking. 

Hiring the bikes from Jurassic Trails cost £54 for the three of us and could be used for the whole day. We thought this was pretty good!


[caption id="attachment_4509" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Robert tries out windsurfing[/caption]

On our third day I went windsurfing at the Official Test Centre in Portland.  My only vaguely similar experience in my life was going Water-skiing in Greece three and a half years ago so I entered a complete beginner but came out, quoting the words of my instructor, “a natural”. I got the hang of it practically straight away; there was a secure position, a sailing position and the act of turning around. Once you learn those – which we did on the shore – the only difficulty is keeping your balance and not falling in. The two hour session went by quickly and I would definitely try it again – possibly in windier conditions than the test centre. The water is so shallow and the one time I fell, my feet touched the floor so there is no reason to be scared. The centre also teaches paddle boarding which is an easier water sport that you could attempt if you wanted. 

Robert's two-hour taster lesson was complimentary (lucky us!) but would have cost £49. The Official Test Centre is on Portland, just past Chesil Beach. Although they gifted us the session, they had no input into this blog post.

Castletown D-Day centre 

Earlier that day we visited the Castletown D-Day centre, an activity which my parents weren’t too scared to take part in. The museum was one of the best I’ve been to in a while, due to the fact that there were so many interactive things to do which seemed to be one of the things the owner had been really pushing for when building the centre.
There were tanks and army vehicles you could climb in and move, 
videos to watch, boards to read as well as proper army uniform and an array of guns that you could wear and pick up. Upstairs was a surprisingly creepy enemy bunker focusing on the Germans and their experience of D-Day, and a tea-room where we coincidentally saw the museum's owner who we had just been watching in the videos downstairs! The centre is only open between 10.30 – 3.30 but it was really fun and interesting, the staff really knew their stuff and it was a really nice place to go. We ended up spending a lot more time there than we had expected to.

The Castletown D Day Centre is situated in Portland, where thousands of American soldiers stayed before they left for France in 1944. It costs £7 for adults, £5 for 12-17 year olds and £4 for children. 

Natural Landscape 

[caption id="attachment_4511" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Lulworth Cove[/caption]

Throughout the holiday went to some beautiful places including Lulworth Cove – a stunning bay with about 100 places to get an ice-cream, Opa Church Cove, a small rocky area on Portland which was once used by smugglers, and the area around the Portland Bill Lighthouse – not to mention many other beautiful views and beaches that we visited. The most amazing place to see however was Durdle Door – a natural limestone arch in the sea.

[caption id="attachment_4512" align="alignnone" width="1200"] The stunning Durdle Door[/caption]

Although quite a long walk from the car park it was a beautiful sight and the rocky beach preceding it was a great place to swim, relax and stare in awe. There were so many places of natural beauty in Dorset and they made the holiday feel much more relaxed than constantly visiting museums and man-made attractions. 

Jurassic Coast 

[caption id="attachment_4513" align="alignnone" width="1200"] An ammonite (fossil) found on Charmouth Beach[/caption]

The most unique activity we participated in throughout the trip was definitely our fossil tour on the Jurassic Coast. Our tour guide Martin, from Jurassic Coast Guides, explained how different fossils are formed and helped us remember what they look like and how to spot them. After the talk, which lasted about an hour, and a toilet break which gladly lasted less than an hour, we set off down the coastline to find some fossils. Martin had explained the places with the best chance of finding a fossil but even before we got to them he had found few which he let us “find” and keep after giving us the general area it was in. This stayed the case for the majority of the two hours we spent on the beach. Although grouped together, Mum, Dad and I found three, maybe four traces of fossilised creatures to Martin’s 20 or so more impressive ones. The whole experience was really interesting and fun and we came home with a bag full of 14 190 million year old rocks. If you are considering going fossil hunting, on the Jurassic Coast or elsewhere I would definitely recommend doing it as part of a tour or with someone experienced and we would have had no clue whatsoever if we had gone on our own. 

Private fossil hunting walk with Jurassic Coast Guides costs £100. We were fortunate enough to be given one for gree in order to write about. However, no one from the company has had any input into this piece, which is also our (particularly Robert's) opinions.

Dorset Adventure Park 

[caption id="attachment_4514" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Corfe Castle[/caption]

Our hour at Dorset Adventure Park felt much longer – it was one of the most fun activities of the holiday and Mum and Dad really enjoyed it as well even though they were in the water for most of it!  Everything is inflatable and if you only fall off you have to swim to nearest entry point or attempt to climb back on where someone pulls you up by the lifejacket.

Read more about our trip to this brilliant park and also nearby Corfe Castle in this post from Robert.

Sea life and adventure golf 

[caption id="attachment_4515" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Playing crazy golf![/caption]

We only spent an hour or so in Weymouth’s Sea Life as we saw all the different attractions and didn’t stick around at each for too long. However, for younger kids it looked like a great place to visit – there were at least five different schools visiting when we went. Our favourite bit was the “shipwreck” with lots of cool sea life to see inside: jellyfish, crabs and fish and we also liked seeing some otters being fed – one of the events that occur throughout the day. There were seals, sharks, turtles and penguins as well as lots more cool things to see for children to enjoy. We also visited the Pirate Adventure Golf just outside which was really fun. Beware though, we went in the morning around when it had just opened and it was extremely busy, meaning long waits to play the next hole. 

A Pirate Adventure Golf & Weymouth SEALIFE combi ticket (booked online) is Adult £24.95, Child (3-14) £20.95. We were lucky enough to be given these in order to write about them, but the organisation had no input into this blog post.

Overall I loved going to Dorset and is my favourite holiday in the UK in many years – if not my whole life. Coincidence that Jess didn’t come on this one! It was so nice not to go to a bustling city and just visit museums and theme parks – although I could’ve done with a few rides; instead there were beautiful coves and beaches and activities involving nature. On top of that there were so many delicious foods to sampleI’m pretty sure I had more ice-creams than days of the holiday! If you are thinking of going to a place in England I would wholeheartedly recommend Dorset as we spent a week there and there were still loads of things we didn’t do or visit. There are definitely enough things for adults, teenagers and children and I hope to go back again in the future." 

Disclosure: Visit Dorset helped us to plan our holiday, but had no input into this blog post. They have information for everything to do across the county.

Read more on family holidays in the UK: 

A family trip to Cornwall

What to do in beautiful Pembrokeshire

Why we loved Lincoln (and are sure you would too!)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

Tuesday 23 July 2019

Dorset Adventure Park and Corfe Castle in Dorset

[caption id="attachment_4483" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Sarah in front of Corfe Castle[/caption]

We recently went on holiday to Dorset (a long blog post is on its way!). Here is one of the days which my son, Robert, who's 14, enjoyed the most and which he would highly recommend. It begins with Corfe Castle.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I am a history buff and love castles. Corfe Castle (a National Trust Property), which is located on the Isle of Purbeck, between Wareham and Swanage, is spectacular! It was built by William the Conquerer and has a long, magnificent history, not least the story of how the Royalists in the castle tried to hold out against the Roundheads during the English Civil War of the 17th century.

Corfe Castle is also the name of the very pretty village in which the castle is located and it's gorgeous to walk around - and to have an ice-cream or cream tea (or both!).

Let Robert tell you more:

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle, or the ruins of Corfe castle, is a great place to go. Not only is it visually stunning, with great views of the architecture from the bottom of the hill and great views of the surrounding area on top – it is also a historic landmark with lots of boards to read and find out about what happened at the castle.

There are also lots of activities for kids of all ages.

[caption id="attachment_4484" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Robert helps to hold up the ruins![/caption]

Dorset Adventure Park

After our visit to Corfe Castle, we moved onto Dorset Adventure Park, which is only about 5 minutes away. Our hour in the water there felt much longer – it was one of the most fun activities of the holiday and Mum and Dad really enjoyed it as well, even though they were in the water for most of it!

Once kitted in our wetsuits and life jackets we walked to the first lake, called Castle Lake, because you can see Corfe Castle from the water, where we spent half an hour running, jumping and falling off obstacles. There were narrow poles to climb over, large hills to climb, and trampolines and other singular obstacles floating in the water. Everything is inflatable and if you fall off you have to swim to nearest entry point or attempt to climb back on where someone pulls you up by the life jacket. After Mum and Dad fell off multiple times before clearing the first obstacle I ended my fits of laughter and ran off on my own.

The next lake, the Woodland Lake, was even better – it had air bags, monkey bars and bigger slides, to name a few. There was also a tightrope with ropes to cling onto hovering above the water which I attempted many times but could not clear the third. At least I attempted it though, unlike my Mum and Dad!

[caption id="attachment_4485" align="alignnone" width="1200"]The castle lake and inflatables at Dorset Adventure Park You can just see the Castle Lake and inflatables in this picture - in front of Corfe Castle[/caption]

There were about 10-15 obstacles or so in each lake and it never got boring.

If going with someone other than your parents you could race around the track or if you are really courageous you could hold battles where you try to push off your opponents.

The Adventure park was great to visit although it only takes up about two hours of your day. Corfe Castle was just a few minutes away so you could create a nice day out visiting the two.

We don't have any great pics of the water park because we had to put away our clothes and phone/camera!

[caption id="attachment_4486" align="alignnone" width="1200"] The castle ruins are really spectacular[/caption]

Need to know:

Corfe Castle is a National Trust property, and so free for National Trust members. Otherwise it has different costs for peak and off-peak times. The summer is peak time and it costs £10 for adults, £5 for children or £25 for a family ticket.

There are loads of activities over the summer for families, so do check out their website.

Dorset Adventure Park is open every day in the school holiday and costs £15 a person. You can also hire wetsuits and shoes, or bring your own.

Disclosure: We received free entry into Dorset Adventure Park in order to write about it. However, all the opinions in this blog post are our own and no one else had any input into them.

For more about Dorset, see the Visit Dorset website

Don't miss our post on what to do in Dorset - also written by Robert!

Read more:

A great day out at Thorpe Park (by Robert)

Cakes, a castle and cathedral, what to do in Lincoln

A visit to majestic Casa Loma, in Toronto

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

Sunday 30 June 2019

A Right Royale Tea - living it up with an immersive theatrical tea in London

Robert next to a sign saying Air Hair Lair

We love London, we love theatre and we definitely love teas, so there was little hesitation when we found out that one theatre company was putting on an immersive comedy dining experience in our home town!

Let Robert, who's now 14 tell you more:

"This weekend Mum and I travelled back to 1922 for an immersive performance and A Right Royale Tea. For the first time in my lifetime someone recognised my noble blood and, whilst Robert and Sarah entered the beautiful Amba Hotel, it was Lord Robert and Lady Sarah who exited. The hotel was directly connected to Charing Cross station and so was very convenient to get too – no long walks for the upper class!

After one of the servants took our names we were directed to a waiting room where we practised our formal greetings – “Air Hair Lair” ("Oh, hello" for those who don't speak aristocracy) before entering the hall and sitting down on tables of six or seven with other visitors. Throughout the afternoon we were introduced to Lord and Lady Right, their daughter Ginnie and the family’s witty and blunt members of staff.

[caption id="attachment_4471" align="alignnone" width="900"]Sarah and Robert holding scones at the Right Royale Tea The food - especially the sweet treats - was really delicious.[/caption]

The food:

Sandwiched in between the performance that recounts the lives and situations of our hosts was, well, sandwiches, as well as a variety of cakes and scones accompanied by tea and coffee to wash it down. There was egg, ham (which we didn't eat), cucumber and smoked-salmon sandwiches – as any acceptable afternoon tea should have, and as for the desserts there were lemon tarts, mini Victoria sponges, cherry drops and scones with jam and cream. We were both more than full by the end and there was definitely enough options for vegetarians.

[caption id="attachment_4472" align="alignnone" width="1200"] Patrick - who always referred to himself in the third person - was especially good[/caption]

The performance:

The storyline and actors themselves were very funny – in particular the audacious gin-drinking Lady Right and butler Patrick who refers to himself in the third person. We were treated to a performance of opera, a communal rendition of Oh Brittania and the audience were involved heavily. There were chances to take pictures with the actors in their costumes and plenty of breaks to chat within your tables. The whole event lasted around two and a half hours although it flew by and felt like much less.

[caption id="attachment_4473" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Lord and Lady Right and us Lord and Lady Right and us![/caption]


Mum and I had a really fun time at A Right Royale Tea and would definitely recommend going if you enjoy immersive performances or just want re-earth some old memories of yourself from 1922. If a similar experience ever came about I would definitely hope to be going."

Sarah adds:

We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and it was fun to meet the other people on our table. The audience was a mixture of locals (from London or nearby) and tourists, and the actors were really good at chatting to everyone and getting involved. I felt the acting part of it started a bit slowly, but definitely got better and better and ended on a high.

A small niggle was that the smoked salmon sandwiches were put next to the ham ones (not great for those who eat fish, but not meat and wouldn't want them to touch) and that one of the three cakes (the cherry one) wasn't suitable for vegetarians and nothing else was offered instead. However, these were, as mentioned, small niggles and I have to say that we were pretty stuffed at the end (we didn't eat any supper afterwards, put it that way...). The sweet treats were really delicious and there was copious amounts of cream and jam. All the staff were friendly and helpful and it really was a different and fun experience - a step up from just going out for afternoon tea! Plus, I had no idea that the Amba hotel even existed. It's literally right next to Charing Cross station and inside it was amazingly large, quiet and plush.

The Right Royale Tea takes place at the Amba Hotel, Charing Cross, London, on Sundays across the summer, from 2.30-5pm, finishing on September 1st. Tickets cost £69.95 per adult, £59.95 per child under 12 and £65.95 for students and senior citizens.

Disclosure: We were given free entry to the Right Royale Tea in order to write about it for this blog. However, all the opinions contained in the post are our own and no one else had any input into them.

Labels: , , , , ,

Sunday 23 September 2018

The Postal Museum in London: a ticket to ride

[caption id="attachment_4446" align="alignnone" width="1200"]The wall by the Postal Museum, London The wall by the Postal Museum[/caption]

As Londoners, we have explored our home city pretty well over the years. We’ve enjoyed big attractions like the Science Museum, and sought out smaller ones like Dr Johnson’s House. We’ve travelled in different directions, from north to Kenwood House, across the river to the glories of Greenwich. So we were pretty excited at the thought of visiting a new museum – especially one with a ride...

The Postal Museum is great – I should say that straight up – and unique. It’s genuinely interesting (I had no idea that post boxes were originally green, for example) and has been very carefully thought out so that the interactive parts work well and also informative. There are loads of interesting exhibits and artefacts, and you can even design your own stamp!

[caption id="attachment_4447" align="alignnone" width="1200"]The Mail Rail ride at the Postal Museum, London The Mail Rail ride at the Postal Museum,[/caption]
Where is it?

The Museum is on two sites, near the former Mount Pleasant depot in Clerkenwell, London.  The first involves the ride – on a real mail train – and for most people it’s the highlight. I should admit right now, that I could not bring myself to go on this as I don’t like very small enclosed spaces, but Brian, Robert and Jess really enjoyed their 15 minute journey and I could watch it all on a screen just behind the track, so didn’t really feel I missed out.
History in action

I can’t imagine that many people know that a postal railway network operated under London for much of the 20th century. It distributed letters and parcels across the city, from Paddington to Whitechapel (around 6.5 miles) on specially designed trains, cutting down delivery times dramatically and delivering millions of letters each day.

The driver on the Mail Rail rideIt was actually the world’s first driverless electric railway when it opened in 1927, and visitors can travel in a specially adapted train into these underground tunnels. They take you back in time, past a dartboard on a wall, which the workers – who loaded the bags of letters - used to play on between shifts, into the Blitz and even a powercut (I was glad not to be on the train for that one.....)

The service closed in 2003 – basically because we’ve stopped sending so much post (damned Internet!)

Once you disembark from the Mail Rail, there’s an accompanying exhibition which is well worth your time. You can see the original trains, try to keep the trains running by controlling the network (this was tricky) and sort the mail while the ground is moving (we all liked this one!).
The second half

After you’ve finished with the Mail Rail part, cross the road and walk up a little bit and you can visit the actual Postal Museum Exhibition. This is small, but really good, taking you right back to the history of the mail service, when Henry VIII was on the throne, to the present day.

You can see an original mail coach, a sheet of Penny Blacks, and the original sculpture of the Queen’s head which has been used on millions of stamps. You can also dress up, and find out about how the post was delivered in war time. I found this really moving.

[caption id="attachment_4449" align="alignnone" width="1200"]Rare Edward VIII stamps on show Rare Edward VIII stamps on show[/caption]

There’s also a playspace “Sorted” for younger kids.

Robert, aged 13, says:

"I really enjoyed all the interactive activities to take part in that were scattered around the museum. You could make custom stamps that you could decorate with your face and an array of animated decorations. You could also play electronic games, one in which you pick which way to go to complete the quickest delivery route and another in which you make important decisions regarding the safety of the mail, your passengers and your deadline to deliver. Those activities were really fun although they weren’t something you would want to do numerous times.

“However, there was one activity I could’ve kept doing for hours (which I almost did!). It was the pneumatic mail delivery tubes and involved writing messages before placing them in mail capsules and then pushing them into chutes which transported your message all around the exhibition before dropping it off at the alternate station. Whoever was at that station would then write back so you could have a fun conversation with the person the receiving end.”

[caption id="attachment_4450" align="alignnone" width="900"]An original green postbox Postboxes were originally green![/caption]

All in all, we would recommend The Postal Musem as a great day out for all ages. You should book the Mail Rail in advance as it gets extremely popular and afterwards, either eat in the cafe, or take a quick walk to Exmouth Market, which is full of shops and stalls.
Need to know

The Postal Musum is open every day from 10 till 5pm

Entry to the exhibitions costs £11 for adults and is free for children.

A trip on the Mail Rail and the exhibitions is £17.45 for adults and £10.45 for children.

You can find more information on the museum's website.

Labels: , , , , ,