We considered a cruise for our honeymoon a few years ago. I liked the idea of visiting 10 cities in 10 days, as a sort of turbo tourism. I was put off when I remembered a Round The Island Yacht Race I took part in and spent the whole time going gradually greener.
I was supposed to be reporting on it for local radio, but spent most of the time just giving an update of how ill I felt. I’m assured cruise ships are much more stable than a yacht which was nicknamed ‘The Vomit Comet’ but I didn’t fancy taking the risk.
Still, it’s quite clear that cruising is hugely popular and the Solent is something of centre for such things.
And so, I was intrigued to hear of tentative-one day-potential plans to exploit Cowes as a stopping point for cruise ships.
It’s clearly just an idea at the moment but the press release includes this quote;
Capt. Stuart McIntosh, Cowes Harbour Master, said: “There is real potential to establish Cowes as a popular cruise ship destination and with its central south coast location, it is an ideally situated port-of-call for cruise ship operators catering to the northern European luxury cruise market.”
No doubt there are obstacles, but I love the idea of huge great cruise ships turning up in Cowes and thousands of foreign tourists arriving for the day. Sure, it wouldn’t bring any overnight trade to support accommodation providers but there’s potential to showcase the Isle of Wight during a quick tour which will lead to return visits.
And of course, it would be a real boost for retailers and attractions to have queues out the door outside of school holidays.
So what would people do during their few hours onshore? I’ve had this discussion a few times recently with people who have only a few hours on the Island and want to get a feel for it.
Cowes is one of my favourite parts of the Isle of Wight, but you wouldn’t want to spend the whole day there unless you particularly enjoyed watching boats (presumably you get enough of that onboard a cruise ship). You’d be much better to hop on an open top bus or a bicycle and have an explore.
One option I’d favour would be an open top bus with a walk up to the Pepperpot, fossil hunting at Brook Chine and then the obligatory visit to either The Needles Old Battery or the chairlift and Alum Bay. The views from The Pepperpot are glorious as is the drive over the top of the Military Road and down into Freshwater Bay.
History fans could probably combine Carisbrooke Castle and Osborne House into one day if they didn’t spend too long reading every single noticeboard (like my mother would).
And then there’s the Twee Tour, which would incorporate Godshill and Shanklin’s Olde Village – we’d market it as “More thatch than you can shake a stick at!”
There’s plenty of potential there, and the Isle of Wight is compact enough that visitors could see some really lovely parts without spending all day on a bus.
Probably best if cruise ships don’t arrive during Cowes Week though, I think it might get a bit crowded
Official winter brochures for English seaside resorts paint a rosy picture of crisp mornings, low lying sun glistening off the sea and roaring fires in thatched pubs. There’s very little mention of England’s winter rain or howling wind battering against closed ice cream huts.
If you fancy a winter weekend away without the hassle of flying then my advice is controversial and it will probably rile bed and breakfast proprietors across the land.
Here goes: Book at the last minute.
In the height of summer I advise the complete opposite for visitors considering a trip to the Isle of Wight. Last minute summertime visitors pay more for the ferry and they are left with a slimmer choice of accommodation (which is a polite way of saying that you’ll end up camping in a layby).
In winter, you’ll rarely find anywhere fully booked - except perhaps over Christmas - and with a bit of research you can have a pleasant winter break on a shoestring which is only a couple of hours from London or 3 hours from Birmingham. Without planning, you risk spending three days watching rain dribble down the window of your holiday cottage.
The key, of course, is the weather. Even with the Isle of Wight’s sunny climate, you can expect at least some rain on about 17 days in January and 13 days in February.
Average temperatures are slightly above the mainland, but still pretty cold so it’s a case of wrapping up and moving as if you are competing in a powerwalking competition.
Keep an eye on the five day forecast (or less reliable 10 day forecast if you’re a gambler) and pick one of the Island’s golden winter weekends when the sun is shining and the skies are blue.
With a whiff of sunshine the Isle of Wight’s beaches are glorious for bracing winter walks. Parking on the Island’s esplanades is generally free off-season and dog walkers can roam free (most of the busy beaches are dog-free zones in summer). Most of the beachfront pubs and restaurants stay open and you won’t be queueing behind a family with 12 children dithering over ice cream flavours.
A few tourist attractions stay open with limited hours, but the real attraction is the outdoors. Try the walk along the long esplanade from Sandown to Shanklin, or between Bonchurch and Ventnor when the waves are crashing against the sea wall. If it’s not too windy, follow the coastal path along the unspoilt south west cliffs and carry on to the Needles if you are feeling fit. This January, there’s a winter weekend walking festival with various organised routes.
And for fellow bargain hunters, here’s the clincher – Isle of Wight winter holidays can cost about a quarter of the summertime equivalent.
During Cowes Week in August, a car journey to the Isle of Wight can cost more than £150, but in winter you can expect to pay about £50-£70 or some big hotels will throw in the ferry for free.
The biggest saving though is with accommodation when most holiday homeowners drop their prices to less than half the summertime peak. Most are also more flexible with letting you book for a last minute long weekend rather than a full week.
I recently did a price comparison of holiday parks on the Isle of Wight and found that a week's accommodation and ferry in a holiday park for 4 people was £255 in winter, or £952 in summer. If you can split the price between four, you’re paying £9 per person, per night including the ferry.
Don’t get me wrong – the Isle of Wight is at its glorious best from Easter to September but if the summer seems a long way away then I’d get checking that weather forecast…
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