We spent a few days in an apartment on Shanklin Esplanade recently. It had glorious views and was close enough to the seafront to hear the waves and eavesdrop on the runners jogging past.
The downside was that the apartment didn't have parking. Rather irritatingly, there were several empty spaces in the parking area below the flats which remained empty all week but none which were allocated to the flat we had rented.
On the plus side, it was a chance to test out my claim that the Isle of Wight Council's Weekly Tourist Permit for visitors is poor value for money.
The seven day pass was advertised on the parking sign as £52.90 when I arrived, although when I went into the parking app it actually wanted more than £60. Presumably it had added on an extra day for the remainder of the evening, even though it was past 6pm and should have only added £1 (by the way, this blog post is really quite tedious if you aren't interested in penny pinching - feel free to leave immediately and do something more interesting).
It's worth noting that the price of the weekly pass has increased in the last few years. In 2014, the price of the tourist permit was £39.25 so it should have been £44.65 by 2020 and only slightly more by 2021 once we take inflation into account (Bank of England inflation calculator).
The pay as go option is about £8-9 a day, so to save any money with the weekly pass you'd need to use it pretty much non stop.
I was convinced we wouldn't get value from it or at the very least I could kid myself that paying a few pounds a day is better than coughing up £60 in one go.
And the result?
In total, we spent £39.20 on pay as you go parking, so a saving of about £21 compared to the £60 which we would have paid for the parking permit. The reasons were:
The parking app wasn't perfect. In some car parks the evening rate lasted until 10am whilst in others it expired at 4.30am, even though that's not what it said on the signs. I ended up overpaying instead of setting an alarm to wake me up in the middle of the night. You also pay 20p every time you use the app, which I've included in my calculations.
So, my conclusion is that you are better to pay as you go as long as a) you don't mind a little bit of hassle to save a few pounds b) you're organised enough to not forget to keep topping up and c) you don't mind paying for parking on your phone. A couple of times, the car ended up 200m from the flat because the nearest spaces were taken. I could extend it from a distance rather than walking to the car and searching under the seat for more change.
I have a list in my head of things that I'd like to complete or achieve on the Isle of Wight. Walking every footpath on the Island is one of them - there are about 500 miles, so it's not completely unrealistic over the space of several months or years <insert Proclaimers reference here>.
A less ambitious challenge is to complete a round of golf at every minigolf course on the Island. That's not quite up there with completing a triathlon or discovering a new treatment for a disease, but it's a more achievable task for a parent of young children.
Over the last few years we've putted our way round: the Needles, Puckpool, Sandham Gardens (the old minigolf course and the new one), Tapnell Farm and Rylstone Gardens. In Shanklin, we completed the old seafront course and its replacement (Jurassic Bay). We also did the old course Shanklin Seafront course with the aeroplane which has been replaced with Caddyshack.
Up until this week, the ones we hadn't completed were the pirate themed one on Shanklin seafront, the Aztec course on Sandown Pier, the course with the dragon at Calbourne Mill and Caddyshack in Shanklin. I think there are some basic courses on some of the Isle of Wight's holiday parks and there's probably one in the back of someone's garden but I'm excluding those.
This week we ticked off the pirate course, which had previously been too scary for the younger member of our party. It is hardly going to make it into a Mark Kermode series on BBC Four about horror movies, but there are a few skull and crossbones to contend with.
We have a simple handicap system for minigolf which involves each player adding on their age at the end of the game. It was bad news for my mother when she joined us one time, but otherwise it allows you to fudge the score so you can say that one of the children won even though you know in your heart that they most definitely didn't.
When we played, the course cost us £24 for a family of four and it filled just over an hour. That makes it a relatively pricey activity compared to some other minigolf courses on the Isle of Wight but the seaside location makes it worthwhile. You can save a bit by getting a joint ticket for the dinosaur course next door and completing it within a week (£40 for a joint family ticket when we visited in 2021).
The holes have a good selection of banks to curve the ball round and tunnels to putt through. I personally prefer very complex and difficult minigolf courses but this one is more family-friendly. It was child one's first attempt at minigolf without my assistance and I fear we would still be there if the holes had been too complicated.
The best bit for me is the cave with the waterfall splashing overhead but the whole thing is well designed and decorated.
The final score card was grim reading for me - a round of 61 and not a single hole in one.
Rather crushingly, Mrs Guru beat me by three points, thanks in part to a hole in one which deflected off a four year old's foot ("it was going in anyway" she declared with a straight face).
Child two also beat me by several points thanks to the handicap system, but it was worth accepting that defeat to maintain the peace.
Big delays aren't terribly common on the Isle of Wight ferries but they are terribly inconvenient when they happen.
Recent figures are hard to come by, but this official-looking report reckons that about 77% of ferries on the Wightlink Portsmouth to Fishbourne crossing left within five minutes of the planned departure time in 2015. For Lymington to Yarmouth it was 93% and Red Funnel's crossing from East Cowes to Southampton was 92%.
Hang around a ferry ticket office for a while and you'll hear a weary traveller asking why they can't get on the ferry leaving at 2pm when they are booked on the 2pm ferry.
"I'm afraid that's the 1pm ferry, sir" comes the reply.
A circular discussion then continues for a few minutes with the passenger pointing at the clock and gesticulating before stomping back to the car and repeating the discussion with their spouse.
The good news is that there is a compensation scheme in place. It is very similar to the Delay Repay scheme used by train companies but it's a little less generous in my opinion. I'd be keen to hear how many people actually use the ferry compensation scheme each year, as I suspect it's a tiny number.
It works like this:
A peak time single crossing can cost £100 on the Isle of Wight car ferry, so you'd get £50 back on a badly delayed crossing. During winter, you're more likely to get about £20 back (based on a return crossing costing £80).
There are also rules about them handing out drinks or putting you in accommodation overnight but I won't go into those. You can read about them here if you're interested.
The main exemption is when it's horrible weather and so the ship can't safely sail. I'm guessing that fog would be the main culprit here. The other exemption is 'extraordinary circumstances hindering the performance of your ferry service which could not have been avoided even if all reasonable measures had been taken' (that's from a fascinating document called 'Passenger Rights under Regulation EU 1177/2010 (incorporated into domestic UK law by section 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018) when travelling by sea and inland waterway'
That's a little harder to pin down and relies on you knowing why the ferry is delayed.
My advice is to put a claim in if your ferry is delayed and see what they say. If you feel inclined, please add a comment onto to blog to say whether you were successful.
Wightlink and Red Funnel provide an online form that you can fill out, so you won't have to waste time and stamps on sending them a letter. Here's the links you need:
The Isle of Wight now has three Premier Inn hotels. The newest one opened on Sandown seafront in 2021 whilst the Lake/Merrie Gardens opened in 2016 and Newport Premier Inn has been there for a few years.
To avoid confusion, I'll refer to them by their proper names which are Premier Inn Sandown (Seafront), Premier Inn Sandown (Merrie Gardens) and Premier Inn Newport (Isle of Wight). They are all on the Isle of Wight but the last one includes the 'Isle of Wight' name to save people accidentally booking a week's holiday in South Wales - although I'm sure that would be lovely too.
But which is the best Premier Inn on the Isle of Wight?
If you just want the summary then we think that:
Premier Inn Sandown (Seafront)
Premier Inn Sandown (Merrie Gardens)
Premier Inn Newport (Isle of Wight)
Our Price COmparisons of Premier Inn Hotels on the ISle of Wight
For a rough idea of prices, we searched for a Friday to Monday weekend break for a couple in the cheapest room available. We searched in June 2021 and found the following price:
Three nights for two people in mid-July 2021
Late September 2021
Early October 2021
Early November 2021
Early May 2022
As you can see, there are some dates where the prices are the same or very similar at all three Isle of Wight Premier Inns. For the nearer dates, the Premier Inn Newport (Isle of Wight) tends to be the most expensive. The Premier Inn Sandown (Seafront) is the cheapest for the dates which are a long way away, which suggests to me that it has a cheaper starting price than the other two, perhaps because of the added cost of paying for parking.
Side by Side - how do the Isle of Wight's Premier Inn's compare?
Warner Leisure run two of the Isle of Wight’s bigger hotels. They’re unusual because most of the Isle of Wight’s hotels are independently run. The other chain hotels are Premier Inn (Sandown, Lake and Newport), Travelodge (Newport and Ryde) and Best Western (Cowes).
This blog focuses on how to save money at Bembridge Coast Hotel and Norton Grange Coastal Village. If you're deciding which one to visit then you we've got a comparison of the two hotels here.
Anyway, here are six ways to save money on a holiday at Bembridge Coast and Norton Grange in Yarmouth.
1. Book early rather than holding out for a last minute bargain
Booking early is the key to getting a good price on most holidays. You might think that a ‘last minute bargain’ is the way to go, but it’s much more common for prices to climb up as availability drops.
This is usually because the cheapest grade of rooms are booked up earlier. If you leave it late then you’re forced into an upgrade that you probably wouldn’t have paid for otherwise.
For example, we searched in June 2021 for a week’s holiday in early September at Bembridge Coast Hotel. For a week in early September 2022 it was £493 per person for B&B. We could choose from standard rooms or posher rooms and could pay extra for a seaview and a balcony (which I would recommend, if you can afford it). The same week in September 2021 was about twice the price at £959 per person for B&B because the only room left was the Royale Room which is much plusher and more spacious.
2. Check the Warner Leisure Offers Page
Having said that booking early is the best thing to do, I'll now contradict myself by saying that you should check for last minute breaks on the Warner Leisure website.
To be honest though, if you are fixed on visiting one hotel then you will find there isn't much choice. When we checked, there weren't any last minute deals at Bembridge Coast Hotel and only one at Norton Grange (with Darren Day, no less).
However, the special offers page does also include some other deals. When I checked you could get an extra £20 off if you stay for seven days and there were several fixed priced deals on B&B as well as dinner, bed and breakfast.
3. Ask Warner Leisure to book the ferry for you
We’ve been jabbering on for years that the best way to get a good price on the Isle of Wight ferry is not to book it direct with Red Funnel and Wightlink (usually). A big company like Warner Leisure get a favourable trade rate and they bundle it in with holidays at a very good price.
At the time of typing, they charge £55 return for most crossings or £75 for some others (see more details of the Warner ferry offer here) That’s the price for a car and as many passengers as you want. They also say that if you find it cheaper then they’ll match it ‘on production of a valid quote or receipt showing the details’.
The only times that it might be cheaper to book direct with the ferry companies for a Warner Hotels holiday are:
If you want to do some more research, take a look at our ferries discount page. Honestly though, I wouldn’t bother – you’re unlikely to beat the Warner Leisure price.
4. Visit Norton Grange instead of Bembridge Coast
We carried out two price comparisons in our guide which looked at Norton Grange and Bembridge side by side. For both sets of dates, Norton Grange was notably cheaper – on occasion by £160 for a couple for a week and by £320 on the other date.
Of course, we also found that Bembridge Coast Hotel gets slightly better reviews but there’s more money saving potential at Norton Grange.
5. Choose the best time of year for you
You won’t be shocked to hear that a week at Bembridge Coast Hotel or Norton Grange Hotel in the depths of winter is cheaper than a summer break.
However, there are some golden patches where you can get a combination of good prices and good weather (hopefully).
To test this out we looked for the price for the cheapest available week in the middle of each month during 2022 at Bembridge Coast Hotel, including dinner, bed and breakfast and entertainment. We searched in June 2021:
So, the time for a bargain holiday is December, January and February whilst prices are at their highest from June to September.
Keep in mind that some Isle of Wight attractions stay open all year round whilst a significant number just open from April to October, or drop down to limited hours during winter.
Also worth mentioning is that the Isle of Wight is much busier during school holidays, particularly late July/August, May half term and Easter.
There’s no single answer here but I would suggest that:
It's also worth saying that Bembridge Coast and Norton Grange are aimed at couples rather than families. As a result, August isn't always the most expensive month - whereas it would be at every self catering cottage or holiday park. That means Bembridge Coast and Norton Grange are good options if you have grandchildren on the Isle of Wight and want to visit them without staying with them.
6. Skip the entertainment (and dinner)
I would say there’s only a marginal saving with this one, so it won’t be for everyone.
When we checked, the cost of upgrading from B&B only to B&B with entertainment and dinner at Bembridge Coast Hotel or Norton Grange Coastal Village was about £170-£180 per person, per week. That’s about £50 a night for a couple.
If you decide that you aren’t at all interested in watching the live shows and that you would prefer to head out each evening for dinner then it’s probably not worth the upgrade.
From Bembridge Coast you can get to Sandown, Shanklin, Bembridge and Ryde within about 15 minutes by car. Between them, you’ve got a good choice of places to eat, many of which overlook the sea.
From Norton Grange, there are a handful of places to eat in Yarmouth and there are pubs scattered throughout the West Wight's villages. I would say that the choice is greater from Bembridge Coast but either is fine if you have a car as the Isle of Wight is blessed with an abundance of good places to eat out.
We’ve picked out some of our favourites in our guide to restaurants with a sea view.
You’ll find that there’s less choice in winter than summer as some restaurants close for several weeks to get over the rush of the peak season.
Hats off to anyone who has started a new business in the last year. Or indeed to anyone who has managed to keep their business going throughout months of lockdowns, tiers, bubbles, furloughs and other words which have taken over our vocabulary.
Here's our shout out to new things you can do and see on the Isle of Wight during summer 2021.
It's been nice to see the attractions at Tapnell Farm growing over the last five years. There's the Farm Park, of course, but there's also now the Isle of Wight Aqua Park which opened in 2020 and the football golf which opens in 2021. It's a first for the Isle of Wight and it's in a lovely setting in the West Wight. I reckon the full 18 hole course will be popular with stag dos and enthusiastic dads (myself included). There's also a shorter nine hole course for younger children.
Robin Hill has hosted a few events since Bestival retired about five years ago. This year, that includes a night of comedy (Tom Allen, Rich Hall, Seann Walsh and Maisie Adam) plus an evening with Katie Melua. If restrictions allow, it'll be held in the woodland amphitheatre or they can spread people out on the lower fields if necessary.
3. Totland Pier Cafe
I'm not going to feature every new cafe and ice cream hut but the new cafe at Totland seems like it is worth a mention. The pier at Totland has been slowly corroding for a few years so it's been nice to see ongoing work to revive it. A big part of the plan is the new cafe which is now open.
Feel free to give a mention to other new cafes and pubs in the comments section below.
Willow fans will already know that there's only one other willow maze in the UK. This one has been created by a charity which tries to revive green spaces on the Isle of Wight. It sits in the grounds of a hexagonal fort which is mostly holiday apartments.
5. Outdoor escape Room at Appuldurcombe House
You might question how hard it is to escape from an outdoor escape room, but it's actually an 'escape room style game, played within the manor grounds'. It takes about an hour and is for 2-8 people. You can book tickets here.
6. The Isle of WIght Festival in September
Yes, I know that the Isle of Wight Festival isn't new. However, 2021 will be the first year it's been held in September (all being well). They've had to jiggle the lineup around but it's still looking good. Best of all, it means that those of us who suffer with hayfever will be able to enjoy the festival without constant nose blowing and sneezing. It's also much closer to the dates of the 1970 festival, which was at the end of August. You can buy tickets here.
7. Wight Knuckle Brewery
My father would be very disappointed at my lack of knowledge of real ales, microbreweries, craft beers and so on. If he knew I had a crate of non-alcoholic Becks in the fridge he'd be inconsolable.
Some people who know a bit more about these things have opened a microbrewery in Bembridge at the Pilot Boat Inn
As previously mentioned on this blog, I spent four happy summers working at Robin Hill Country Park. It was around the time that Bestival was starting and it was certainly one of the best two temporary jobs I had. The other contender was doing the washing up for Queens of the Stone Age but that's less relevant for this blog.
I can still give the safety talk for the Toboggan Run and am happy to rattle it out to friends and family on special occasions.
And so, every return to Robin Hill with my own children has a strong feeling of nostalgia. Many of the rides I operated are still there - Colossus and the Toboggan Run being the main ones. I also operated the Time Machine which has had a rebrand to a 4D Cinema. The ice cream hut is still there where I fell in love with mint choc chip.
Many other things have changed though - almost entirely for the better. The two rides for younger children have been replaced by the Cows Express. In my day, one of the rides was called Jumping Jets and the other was octopus themed (please comment below if you can remember the name of it).
One of the mazes disappeared around the end of my time at Robin Hill and a tonne weight which you could lift with pulleys also went. However, the jungle themed playground wasn't there and that whole section of the park was much quieter.
On our most recent visit it was the Sky High Festival and the park was open until 10pm. When I worked there, we always went home at 5pm or 6pm and special events were rare - besides Bestival and a Pink Floyd Tribute act.
Nowadays, Robin Hill hosts regular evening events and has lighting throughout the whole park. Covid-19 has thrown a spanner into the works for most big events, but the Sky High Night Glow was able to go ahead with everyone having a square of grass to sit on.
Before the balloons attempted take off, we bounced our way through the bouncy nets and walked through the woods and gardens which are much prettier and more interesting than they used to be. The children were less interested in the flowers but my mother enjoyed them. I made the mistake of taking the four year old on the left hand bouncy nets which go in a circular route. She decided she really didn't like it whilst inside a narrow bouncy tunnel which caused a worse tailback than a horsebox on the A303. I should have started with the right hand side bouncy net which is one big bouncy circle which is easier to escape.
After a couple of hours exploring the park we took our seats for the balloons. We had waited for the forecast before booking our tickets and so were enjoying a summer evening. There is food available but we brought our own to avoid queueing (and paying) for it.
As became obvious, ballooning requires practically zero wind to avoid the risk of crashing into the English Channel or onto the roof of M&S. At one moment, the ballooning compere told us that they were 'waiting for this wind to die down' despite the tops of the trees being statue still. We were told that a mass launch was 'amber' rather than 'green' so it could go either way.
I think I'm right in saying that this was the second balloon festival at Robin Hill and they hadn't managed a mass launch during the first one. If you don't get to see a mass launch, you do at least get to see a 'night glow' where the balloons sit on the ground and blast their flames in time with music. For those with long memories, it's a ballooning version of Waltzing Waters (rest in peace).
For a long time, it was touch and go whether we would see any balloons taking off. Mrs Guru was in need of a cup of tea and the children's bedtime was approaching.
However, after much tension-building and a fair amount of discussion about the history of ballooning the mass launch finally began. Balloons drifted over our heads and set off into the summer's evening. In all, seven or eight balloons took off and later landed in a farmer's field (hopefully).
A few days later we came back to use the free returns within seven days offer. This has changed since my day so that you can only visit after 1pm but it's still a good reason to visit at the start of your holiday rather than the end. We tried out disc golf which replaced the pitch and putt a few years ago. It was good fun, even if holes eight and nine had disappeared (presumably to make space for the balloons). Child one nearly got clobbered with a frisbee but thankfully it sailed past her left ear.
Robin Hill is certainly not the cheapest attraction on the Isle of Wight - we paid about £22 each which is about twice the price of Tapnell Farm Park. However, we felt like we got three days out for our money including the balloon festival, the first jaunt round the park and the return visit.
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