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Recently I was asked by Red Funnel Ferries if I wanted to try out one of their new self guided day trip packages to the Isle Of Wight. Since having a baby 6 weeks ago, it’s been impossible for Mikey and I to spend any time together, so when Red Funnel asked if I’d be interested, I thought it would be an excellent excuse for a date day.
Self Guided Day Trip Packages
Red Funnel Ferries have four self guided day trips to choose from: The Queen Victoria’s Osborne, Carisbrooke Castle & Newport, Olde-Worlde England and Dinosaur Isle & The Isle Of Wight Zoo. The packages include foot passenger ferry tickets to/from the Isle Of Wight, return bus tickets and tickets for your chosen attractions. This enables you to save up to a whopping 44% on tickets by purchasing the island day packages, as opposed to paying individually for ferry, bus and attraction tickets. Adult tickets are £29.95 per adult, £19.95 per child and under 5’s go free.
Dinosaur Isle and Isle Of Wight Zoo Self Guided Day Trip
We decided to choose the Dinosaur Isle and Isle Of Wight Zoo package. We had been toying with the idea of having a mini family holiday on the Isle Of Wight, so we thought that this presented the perfect opportunity for us to scout out the best family friendly attractions that the island has to offer.
Finding The Ferry
The brochure lists a suggested itinerary for the day. We had intended to stick to the day’s suggested timetable, but unfortunately we got stuck in traffic and woke up slightly late after a rubbish night’s sleep with the baby! I would recommend sticking to the plan if you can because the bus ride is quite long and travel takes up a huge chunk of your day. If you leave it too late, you won’t have enough time to explore the beach and the attractions.
Once in Southampton, we parked up and headed for the ferry terminal. We found it quite difficult to find the right place. Originally we were waiting in the queue for the vehicle ferry without realising it. The ticket offices aren’t in the same place and you need to find another building further down the road if you want to catch the Red Jet passenger ferry.
The Red Jet Ferry
The Red Jet terminal has a small waiting area, two toilets, vending machines, a small cafe and a ticket office. All the ferry times are displayed digitally and the ferries leave frequently. Once on the ferry, it took around twenty minutes to get from Southampton to the Isle Of Wight. They don’t call it the fast ferry for nothing! I recommend finding a window seat if you can as the ferry really does move and it’s fascinating to watch the land disappear so quickly behind you. The ferry is spacious, the seats are comfortable and there are two toilets on board, as well as an area for luggage.
Travelling To Sandown Via Bus
Both the attractions we visited are located in Sandown, which is on the other side of the island. The brochure we took with us explained which buses we needed to catch and the rough times that they would be arriving and departing. We caught the number 2 bus, which arrived just outside the ferry terminal and took us to Newport Station; the journey took about 25 minutes. The bus was very full and rather hot and stuffy. That, combined with the bumpy roads, made for an interesting half an hour and made me feel quite queasy. Judging by the conversations the locals were having, it seems that the bus isn’t usually that crowded. I think we just hit a bit of bad luck – a busy time period coupled with it being a Saturday in the summer holidays.
We arrived at Newport Station and found our connecting bus a few hundred yards away at bus shelter ‘C’. Thankfully we had a few minutes before the bus was due to arrive so I could pop to the car park opposite and use the public toilets (ladies, you know what it’s like when you’ve just had a baby)!
The bus we caught from Newport took us all the way to Sandown and took roughly an hour and fifteen minutes. It’s a very long journey which is made tedious by all the stopping and starting, as well as the stuffiness of the bus. It’s saving grace is that the route is quite scenic for the most part. The bus is a double decker which means you have a great view if you’re sitting on the top. The seats have USB sockets, which I wish I had known about before leaving Southampton as my phone died halfway through the day and I left my charger in the car. The buses also have WiFi.
After a long journey, we arrived at a sunny Sandown beach. The beach and surrounding cliffs were beautiful. Kites were flying, the locals were sunbathing, shops, stalls and beach side restaurants were buzzing. Sandown beach looked gorgeous, clean, child friendly and had a brilliant atmosphere. There are also toilet block here, which you may be needing after the long bus journey!
A Spot Of Lunch
As I mentioned, there are a few beach side restaurants and eateries to choose from if you fancy some food. After spending a good couple of hours on a buses, we definitely wanted a spot of lunch before we explored Sandown further. We found one restaurant and grill that looked alright, but there was extremely loud live music there which totally spoiled the atmosphere. I love live music, but not when I’m trying to eat and have a conversation with my boyfriend. Also, he only seemed to sing Phil Collins… Definitely not the place for us!
We carried on walking along the beach until we found The Bandstand. I have never eaten in a place quite like it. The kitchen, loos and outside seating area are downstairs and the dining area is upstairs, giving diners a spectacular view of Sandown beach. We ate a gorgeous lunch here and if you’re thinking about taking a trip to Sandown for yourself, I’d definitely recommend popping into The Bandstand and grabbing a bite to eat.
Dinosaur Isle and Isle Of Wight Zoo
The Dinosaur Isle museum and the Isle Of Wight Zoo are both within walking distance from the beach. In fact, everything, including the bus stop, is on the same road which makes it convenient and easy to find the attractions, especially if you have children in tow.
From a parents point of view, I would say that kids would find the the Isle Of Wight Zoo more exciting than the dinosaur museum. But that’s not to say that Dinosaur Isle isn’t worth a visit.
The walk down to the museum and the zoo has quite a few run down looking hotels and buildings, which is a bit of a shame as the beach is so beautiful.
We entered Dinosaur Isle via the ‘winter entrance’. I’m not sure why as we were visiting on a sunny 1st September. The main entrance is huge and the building is very striking, but behind the glass doors to the main entrance you could see all the ex display items being stored there. It was quite off putting and at first we weren’t even sure if the museum was open!
When we eventually found our way in, the lady in the gift shop greeted us and mentioned that photos can be taken anywhere in the museum. It’s very dark in the exhibit, so if you’re after good photos of their extensive fossil collection or dinosaur models, make sure you take a good camera with you.
It’s not a very long exhibit, however it is compact and full of interesting fossils and facts, as well as huge dinosaur models and bone collections. If you’re into this sort of thing, it is well worth a visit. If you’re taking children, the first part of the exhibit may be a little dull for them. However, once you reach the huge hall filled with giant dinosaur bones, sculptures and sound effects, things start to get more exciting! There are a few interactive displays for children to play with, drawing challenges, artwork, giant dinosaurs models and other great things for kids to enjoy. It’s definitely worth a visit, so don’t leave it off your list if you are planning on visiting the Isle Of Wight.
The Isle Of Wight Zoo
From the outside, the Isle Of Wight Zoo looks a bit run down and old fashioned. Once inside however, you wouldn’t know it. The zoo is actually built in an old fort that was used for pumping fuel during the Second World War. There is a special room in the fort which explains the history behind Operation P.L.U.T.O and houses one of the original pumps used.
I wasn’t expecting much from a zoo so close to the sea front and on the outskirts of a small town, but I was actually really impressed. The zoo was clean and a lot bigger than I thought it would be. For an urban zoo, there’s certainly a lot to see, especially if you manage to catch some of the Keeper’s Talks.
There is a good collection of animals, especially if you like monkeys, lions and tigers! The animals seemed quite used to having humans around; the tigers were happy to be lounging around right next to the fencing. There is also a mini farm section that housed rabbits, guinea pigs, goats, hedgehogs and ferrets.
The zoo was definitely my favourite of the two attractions. I really enjoyed our walk around and would love to take Luke and Oscar there some day.
The Red Funnel self guided day trips are a very clever way of encouraging more people to visit the Isle Of Wight. The atmosphere on the island is very different from what I’m used to. Everything moves at a slower pace which threw me a bit because, as a mum of two, I’m used to being surrounded by chaos 24/7.
There is a lot of travelling involved – at least, there is if you chose the Dinosaur Isle and Isle Of Wight Zoo trip. If you discount the drive to Southampton, you’ll be spending a total of 3 hours and 10 minutes on a bus and approximately 50 minutes on the ferry. That means that your total travel time for the day is about 4 hours. It’s for this reason that I wouldn’t consider this particular day trip package to be a good option for children. Or at least younger children. My eldest is 5 years old and there’s no way he would have coped with crowded buses or sitting on a bus for that amount of time. I wouldn’t even attempt it with Oscar, who is 5 weeks old.
That being said, if you’re a couple or you fancy exploring somewhere new, this could be a great budget friendly option. Just make sure you have a spare day so you can move at your own pace and soak in the scenery. It’s worth mentioning that all the other day trip packages have shorter travel times and are much closer to the ferry port, so don’t be put off visiting all the other areas of the island too. Buses seem to be the main method of transport on the Isle Of Wight, so if you miss a bus, there’s always another one coming along a few minutes later.
We really enjoyed our adventure to the Isle of Wight and would love to take the kids there some day. I’ve been looking into other family friendly attractions the island has to offer and it looks as though there’s lots to see and do. The self guided day trips from Red Funnel Ferries are excellent value and well worth it if you don’t mind a little travel time. As I said earlier, our route was long but it also took us through some beautiful countryside which took our minds off the journey.
*Red Funnel Ferries gifted me tickets for the purpose of this review. All thoughts and images are my own.