I have a bad habit of not emptying out my coat pockets. On the first day of winter, I will often pull a coat of the cupboard, feel an odd shape and say "Oh, that's where my sunglasses went!".
If you're returning from an Isle of Wight holiday with children then I guarantee you'll find these find these five things in your pockets:
1. Yellow tickets from Shanklin's Summer Arcade
If the weather isn't living up to those Isle of Wight pictures you saw on Instagram then you'll find the crowds gathered in Shanklin's Summer Arcade. For a single pound you can enjoy up to three minutes of fun, throwing balls at a clown's face or playing a giant keyboard.
You'll be rewarded amply with a splurge of yellow tickets which can be exchanged for an array of wonderful plastic souvenirs. Within a few minutes you'll find that collecting yellow tickets has become more important to you than eating or breathing.
We collected more than 600 yellow tickets over three visits recently and exchanged them for, er, two squishy balls.
Still, I enjoyed playing the giant Space Invaders game and Mrs Guru enjoyed wasting £5 on the grabber machines. She likes to explain how they are rigged and then goes ahead and plays them anyway. Good times.
By my guesstimate, I'd say that the two yellow tickets left in my pocket are worth as much as two thirds of a penny. I'll be clinging on to them for my next visit.
2. A crumpled Map of Blackgang Chine
The first time I took my oldest daughter to Blackgang Chine, she was scared of everything. She was probably three, but she only really enjoyed the swings and the talking bins. Thankfully, Blackgang Chine is free for under fours.
Regardless, she spent the next month showing friends and relatives her map of Blackgang Chine. The map became so worn that I had to repair it with Sellotape.
"That's the Cowboyland that I didn't like...and that's the Princess Castle that I didn't like...and that's the Dinosaurland that I didn't like" she told my mother, repeatedly.
One day, I will collect every Blackgang Chine map ever produced and ask if they'll display them at the Museum of Island History.
3. Unused Supersaver Tickets from Alum Bay
I love a day out to The Needles and Alum Bay. The views are smashing and there's something for most ages, including a carousel for little ones, a chairlift for slightly older ones and a box of fudge or a nice sit down for great-grandads. It's free to get in, apart from the cost of parking (£6 in 2022). The National Trust's Old Battery is excellent if you want to avoid the school trips and funfair.
I also admire a business model which sells tiny containers of sand on an Island full of sandy beaches. That really is up there with selling ice in Antarctica.
The Supersaver Tickets are something else I always get sucked into. Each ride and attraction requires a few £1 tokens, but if you buy a book of 12 then you only pay £9. We always end up with two or three leftovers and then lose them before our next visit.
When we visited The Needles three weeks ago, I asked a member of staff at the small Co-op in Freshwater if they would accept them as a form of payment. He just looked a bit confused.
4. A priceless fossil/a worthless stone
Thankfully we are past the days of the children insisting on bringing a bucket full of shells and stones back from the beach. Mrs Guru would usually allow them to fill up the bucket to "keep the peace" and then I would discreetly put them back on the beach a couple of days later once they had forgotten. I feared that Freshwater Bay would run out of stones if every visitor took home a bucketful.
Nowadays, we tend to pick up something which looks kind of like a fossil and then hold onto it just in case we've discovered a new species. There's no logic to this, as it just sits in the boot of my car for six months whereas if we'd left it behind then a geologist might have found it and placed it in a museum.
However hard you try, you will end up with sand in your pockets after an Isle of Wight holiday.
You'll also find it in your car's footwell (up to your ankles), in your suitcase, in your roofbox and between your toes. Remarkably, you'll find sand everywhere even if you don't step onto a sandy beach. No one knows how this happens.
**Updated April 2022, as buying in advance is now a bigger saving for some group sizes at Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill**
We are big fans of Blackgang Chine with its oddball collection of moving dinosaurs, talking bins and waterslides. Many of our best days out have been held there, particularly now child one is tall enough to go on most things. For many of us, it offers both nostalgia and new curiosities each time we visit.
Robin Hill has the same owners and also offers a cracking day out, over a much larger area. Our favourite bits are the toboggan run, the African themed playground and the new treetop jumping nets but there’s enough to fill several hours.
However, my nose began to bleed and my head rotated three times on our most recent visit to Blackgang Chine when we discovered a ticket for four has now gone up to £126 during peak season. Discount codes and money off vouchers for Blackgang and Robin Hill are rarer than the residents of Dodo Valley, so it ended up costing us a similar price to Alton Towers where ticket prices are higher but 2 for 1 vouchers are ubiquitous.
A four-person family ticket to Blackgang Chine way back in 2008 would have cost you £35 whilst Robin Hill was £31. According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, that would put 2021's prices at £50 for Blackgang Chine or £44 for Robin Hill.
To be fair, a lot has been invested in both parks in the last 14 years. For example, back in 2008 I don't think Robin Hill offered evening events as part of the ticket price and Blackgang Chine didn't have as much of a daytime programme. Also, they didn't used to have peak and off-peak prices, so it's not a very fair comparison. I’m sure there are also multiple other expenses which have increased and both parks always looks clean and freshly painted, unlike the flaky-paint you find at some cheaper parks.
Anyway, rather than wishing it was 2008, let’s have a look at seven ways to get better value out of a trip to Blackgang Chine or Robin Hill:
1. Visit at the start of your holiday
Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill both offer a 7 day free return. You can probably see all of either park in a day, but you may want to revisit things if a rain cloud arrives twenty seconds after you’ve coughed up £126 (the weather is weird at Blackgang Chine). Most things operate in the rain but the toboggan run at Robin Hill and the snakes and ladders slides at Blackgang Chine both shut - and of course it’s utterly miserable walking round a theme park whilst raindrops drip off your nose and the map turns into a soggy mess.
You’ll feel better about it if you come back at the end of your week for another go, even if you do end up spending twenty quid on unicorns and plastic cap guns in the gift shops.
2. Arrive early and then Come back in the evening
During the summer months both Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill put on evening shows, which are included in the ticket price. Some people visit the park during the day and then return for an evening show later in the week.
We saw one of the shows in Robin Hill’s Amphitheatre a couple of years ago and were really impressed at the scale and atmosphere. If you consider it two different family days out for the price then it starts to feel like much better value.
It's also worth arriving at 10am when the parks open and then heading for the most popular rides to avoid wasting time in queues. Double check that the opening time hasn't changed before you go.
There's a golden hour between 10am and 11am when both parks are much quieter because most parents are still arguing with their children about getting out the house/caravan/tent.
At Blackgang Chine, I would head right as you come in the entrance and head for the rollercoaster, waterslide and other rides. Most of the stuff on the left hand side of the park is imaginative play stuff which you walk through so you don't need to queue for it.
At Robin Hill, I would suggest heading straight down the steep hill and going on the toboggan run or getting straight on the 4D Motion Cinema by the entrance. The park is designed so that you follow a more logical circle, but the early afternoon queues for the toboggan run can be quite long.
3. Visit with a 3 year old
I’ll admit this is a bit restrictive, but taking a child on the eve of their fourth birthday is a good move. When we visited it was £35 for anyone over the age of four, or free for anyone under the age of four. Blackgang Chine in particular has quite a bit which will appeal to most three year olds. Sure, they’d get more out of it when they are five or six, but you'd like to leave them with at least some inheritance wouldn't you?
4. Buy an annual pass
This one’s no use to most holidaymakers, but an annual pass may be better value for some.
We've written a separate blog on annual passes as it's quite complicated, because the price fluctuates depending on when you visit and whether you book in advance.
However, the summary is that if you plan to visit both parks during two different school holidays then it is probably worth getting an annual pass.
At the time of writing, an annual pass is £50 for one park or £90 for two parks.
Personally, I think that Robin Hill is a better option for an annual pass as there are more playgrounds and space to run around but Blackgang Chine has better views and an unbeatable charm. Some people alternate between annual passes at the two parks.
5. Buy in advance/buy a joint ticket
The biggest change in the last couple of years at Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill is that some people can save a lot of money by booking in advance. Previously, it was only a tiny bit cheaper.
For 2022, you can save £5 on a school-holiday Blackgang Chine ticket if you buy in advance (£30, instead of £35). For Robin Hill, the peak time saving is a whopping £7 (£28, instead of £35).
So, a family of two adults and one child would save £21 by booking in advance.
The complication is that you don't seem to be able to buy a family ticket in advance. If there are four of you, you'll pay £120 in advance or £126 on the day for a trip to Blackgang Chine during peak times.
Is it worth the £6 saving to then find that the weather forecast was wrong or one of the children needs an unexpected trip to the GP?
Meanwhile, a joint family ticket is advertised as £198 on the poster that we saw in April 2022. That gives entry to Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill for seven days for four people. The saving varies depending on the time of year, but for peak dates it is a saving of £34 compared to buying separate tickets.
Curiously, it seems to cost £200 if you buy a joint park ticket for four people online (i.e. £2 more than buying it on the day).
6. Visit off peak
Not much use to most holidaymakers, but both parks are considerably cheaper outside of school holidays when there aren’t the evening events (it used to be the same price all the time). An off-peak ticket to Blackgang bought in advance is £23, compared to £30 whilst Robin Hill is £22 compared to £28
7. Get your in-laws to pay
Ruthless pennypinchers on a family holiday with the wider family should attempt this strategy:
Got any other suggestions for discounts at Blackgang Chine or Robin Hill? Please feel free to comment below...
A couple of years ago, Shane Ritchie did a programme for Channel 5 where he stayed at Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park.
For about 24 hours, the number of visitors to this website went through the roof. We began calling it The Shane Ritchie Effect. If we operated on a larger scale (rather than out of my shed) then we'd have referred to 'TSRE' in team meetings and made it the focus of an annual conference held at the O2 Arena.
This week we think we saw a similar sensation which we are calling The Kate Humble Effect.
In a recent episode of Coastal Britain, Kate Humble went for a wander round the West Wight. She stood in front of some waves in Freshwater Bay, poked at some stuff on Chilton Chine and read the names on Yarmouth Pier. It was a lovely programme which I would recommend to Isle of Wight fans.
The bulk of the programme was spent admiring The Needles and Alum Bay, which is often the case with Isle of Wight themed programmes. Kate showed boundless enthusiasm for the history hidden within the cliffs and took a boat ride out round the chalk stacks.
Four days later we found ourselves in a colossal queue heading for The Needles. Rumour spread that it was tailing back to Bembridge. People in the bus behind us gave up and walked for the last half a mile. Local residents came out from their houses to hand out cups of soup and blankets. Thankfully, the blitz spirit got us through it.
I exaggerate slightly, but it did take us about 35 minutes to get to the ticket office which seemed a long time since Isle of Wight schools hadn't broken up for Easter. The children had eaten all of their lunch by the time we arrived, which wasn't exactly the plan.
Of course, it's possible that it was nothing to do with Kate Humble. It may just be that it was a sunny day and we arrived at peak time. I may be forced to eat humble pie (Ed: was this whole blog written so that you could include that pun?).
Once we made it inside, we rode the carousel, took home two large pieces of plastic from the hook-a-duck and drove some small cars around a dinosaur themed track.
We then walked down to the beach and pottered about beneath the multicoloured cliffs. The boat trip and chairlift are both good fun, but our children aren't quite the right age so we steered clear.
The strangest thing I saw was a visitor who had brought along a ladle and a spaghetti strainer so he could vandalise the precious cliffs by writing his name. He then crossed the utensils like he was holding two guns in a gangster movie and posed for a photograph. I set my eye-rolling setting to maximum, but I don't think he even noticed me.
I did enjoy another moment when a member of staff bellowed into a loud hailer to tell a small child to "GET OFF THE CLIFFS". The sound of his booming voice echoed across Alum Bay and the child quickly climbed down. I rather suspect that the member of staff enjoys this part of his job. I certainly would.
If you enjoy people watching, head for the halfway point between the lower steps and the upper steps. If the wind is blowing the right way you can savour the sound of a succession of chairlift riders swearing when they realise that it's a lot higher than they were expecting. I swiftly covered my children's ears and told them to walk at a brisk pace back to the car.
"Daddy, what's a @#!&?" asked my youngest daughter.
"Ask Mummy" I replied.
It used to be relatively simple to say whether or not it was worth buying an annual pass (or 'Frequent Visitor Pass') for Blackgang Chine or Robin Hill. You'd look at the price to get in, and see how many times you need to visit to get your money back.
It's more complex now as the entry price varies throughout the year and you get freebies thrown in. To figure it out, you need complex formulas and a team of the country's best mathematicians.
They aren't available, so I'll have a go.
A brief summary
If you plan to visit either park during two different school holidays then an annual pass is worth paying for. If you mostly visit off peak or just want to visit during one school holiday then it may not be worth it.
Here's my working for the full marks
An annual pass for either Robin Hill or Blackgang Chine is now £50 per person. That's the price for anyone who is four or older.
A joint pass for both parks is £90 in 2022.
So, a family of four would pay £360, which is not a small chunk of change.
The park owners sweeten the deal slightly with food and drink vouchers but it's not a mega bonus and will probably only pay for a one-off trip to the ice cream hut. You get a £5 food and drink voucher each for a pass for one park or £10 each with a joint pass.
Meanwhile, tickets during the main school holidays are £28 for Robin Hill or £30 for Blackgang Chine. A joint day ticket is £50. That's the online price, it's more expensive if you just turn up and pay.
So, if a family of four visited both parks at Easter they'd pay £200. If they returned in August they'd pay another £200. There doesn't seem to be a 'family ticket' discount. That's a total of £400. In this scenario, an annual pass is worth buying.
Let's look at some scenarios where it's a bit less clear.
How about if you want to visit one park at Easter and the other in August? In that scenario, you'd pay £112 to visit Robin Hill and then £120 to visit Blackgang Chine.
That's a total of £232 so £128 less than annual passes for both parks, although you're missing out on £40 of food and drink vouchers.
The good news is that you can return within 7 days so you could squeeze in two or three visits during a week and hopefully get to the point where the kids feel they've done everything and won't beg you to return later in the year.
And what if you mostly visit outside of school holidays? A joint ticket for a family of four would be £160, so you would need to visit three times, at least seven days apart before you start saving money.
Finally, what about if you just want to visit Robin Hill throughout the year? A family of four would pay £200 for annual passes and get £20 of free food and drink.
You'd need to visit twice during peak times (i.e. school holidays) or three times outside of school holidays before you are saving money. Again, it needs to be at least seven days apart.
One option worth a brief mention is to alternate between passes each year. At current prices you would pay £200 for a pass for four people each year and could visit repeatedly until you were sick of the sight of dodos or toboggans. You would then swap over for the next year.
Without special events, I would say that a visit to Blackgang Chine and Robin Hill once a year is sufficient for us. That's particularly true of Blackgang Chine, where there's a bit less space to run around and explore. Climbing on a dinosaur is great fun the first time, but it offers diminishing returns.
The thing which makes the annual passes appealing is the events throughout the year.
If you want to go to the balloon festival at Robin Hill in May and then watch a summer show in their amphitheatre in August then you might as well get an annual pass (£200 for 4 people, with £20 of free food and drinks) rather than buying day tickets (total of £224).
If you're paying £200 then you might consider paying another £160 to get Blackgang entry. A single visit during school holidays would be £120 for a family of four, so it's only an extra £40 to come back whenever you want. Plus, you get an extra £20 food and drink voucher, so you're only really paying about £20 to have the option of another visit later in the year.
See our guide to getting the best value from Robin Hill and Blackgang Chine. It's a little bit old now, but most of it is still accurate.
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