I've got to admit, I'm not a fan of Halloween.
Perhaps I'm missing the point, but there seems to be enough real stuff in the world to give children nightmares without making up a load of stuff. Plus there's the plastic tat which fills the supermarkets and the splurge of annoying marketing emails which say things like "No tricks, just treats for our loyal customers this Halloween!".
No, if I want some good wholesome family fun in Autumn I'd much rather celebrate the death of a failed bombing by setting fire to some explosives on November 5th.
And so, it was with some unease that I arrived at Dino Islands mini golf course at Sandham Gardens which had been given a Halloween twist.
I quickly got over the zombies and spiders when I realised they were running a half price deal for half term. It's usually about £6 a person, but we paid £9 for four of us, including a non-playing two year old who was wheeled around the course in the (golf) buggy. The friendly staff informed us that the whole course had been designed for pushchairs, which turned out to be a very wise move. When we've attempted to push child two round other courses, it has usually involved lifting the pushchair over a windmill.
The Sandham Gardens site previously had a much simpler minigolf course before big redevelopment and investment plans began. There are Sky Nets and beach huts coming soon (Easter 2020 hopefully), to add to the playground, go kart tracks and skate park which are already at the site. Once the nets are in place, you'll be able to fill several hours around the beach and Sandham Gardens. It's also home to The Bandstand restaurant which is in our list of places to eat with a sea view.
The whole site looks very impressive, which you'd expect considering that half a million pounds was spent on it. There are a couple of volcanoes which puff out smoke, as well as a large moving dinosaur and lots of models.
Curiously, it does now mean that there are three dinosaur themed minigolf courses on the Isle of Wight including an 18 hole course on Shanklin esplanade (which costs a similar price) and a smaller course at The Needles Pleasure Park. It does make for a great theme, which fits nicely with the Island's history.
Back in the 90s, we used to play a game called 3D Ultra Minigolf which had 18 holes, each with its own theme including the moon landings, the wild west and the seaside. If I ever decide to build my own minigolf course (which is fairly unlikely admittedly) then I'll be following their lead or perhaps making a global tour golf course which involves putting your ball through a French baguette or over a Mexican wall.
The Dino Islands course itself was tricky enough to keep us all entertained, though I would say it has been designed to be family friendly without too many holes which had us tutting in frustration. I averaged about three shots per hole.
The best holes are ones which involve firing the ball over a narrow bridge or one where you have to avoid a hole which sends your ball back to the start. Most importantly, child one achieved a hole in one which she has since mentioned on an hourly basis.
And so, we came to the final scores which thankfully resulted in child one being victorious. This was helped along by the Isle of Wight Guru Argument Avoiding Minigolf Handicap System (IOWGAAMHS), whereby each player adds on their age to their final score. With a bit of luck it results in the youngest player winning every time, without parents having to deliberately take 26 shots on the final hole to even things up.
I’ve recently spent many happy hours updating our price comparisons.
That may sound as interesting as your Grandmother’s pressed flower collection, but luckily I find there’s much fascination in seeing how prices for holiday accommodation and ferries varies wildly depending on when you want to travel.
My feeling is that back in the day, fares and ticket prices didn’t fluctuate so wildly. Train fares were simpler, most B&Bs had one or two rates and the Isle of Wight ferries only had modest variations in their pricing (feel free to comment below if you disagree).
Accommodation prices certainly went up during school holidays but the algorithms are now in charge and are trying to persuade us to visit off peak.
The result is double-edged.
On the one hand, there are absolute bargains to be had – and no-one ever complains about those. Take a look at the price of a bundled hotel and ferry deal in the middle of winter for some examples.
On the other hand, you get occasional quirks in the algorithms which are enough to make your eyes water.
For example, whilst updating our guide to cheap ferry travel for caravan owners we found this Wightlink return fare for £485.
For comparison, the peak Red Funnel fare was £355.
Rather than huffing, puffing and complaining at something a computer spewed out, I felt it might be more useful to offer 8 ways that you can avoid fares like this.
1. Get an accommodation and ferry bundle
Counter-intuitively, going direct to the ferry companies is rarely the cheapest option for a caravan holiday. Many of the Isle of Wight’s camping and touring parks have trade rates agreed with Red Funnel and Wightlink which they pass on to you.
For example, last year we did a price comparison and found that Away Resorts would charge me £149 to take a caravan on the ferry to stay at Whitecliff Bay Holiday Park whilst Wightlink were charging £271 if I got it from them direct.
We’ve got a guide to the camping and touring parks on the Isle of Wight if you’re deciding where to stay.
2. Travel when everyone else is asleep
The computers which decide how much to charge you are very keen to fill up the mostly-empty ferries in the middle of the night.
Admittedly, it’s not a very practical option for a family with young children but the saving can be massive during the school holidays.
In our price comparison, travelling in the middle of day in August 2020 with a caravan cost £344 with Wightlink whilst travelling in the middle of the night was £149 – nearly £200 difference.
Of course, the challenge is what you’re supposed to do when you arrive on the Isle of Wight at 4am. Perhaps watch the sun rise at the beach?
3. Join the Camping and Caravanning Club
Wightlink offer a 20% discount to Camping and Caravanning Club Members. When I checked, membership is £40 but in our price comparison we found it often pays for itself with one booking. You need to book through this link once you’ve got your membership.
There are also discounts for motorhomes with the same membership.
4. Wait for a discount code
This one’s a bit of a gamble.
Generally, the ferry companies advise to book early to get the best prices (you'll see offers such as 'book 2020 at 2019 prices'). Their pricing systems put the prices up as the ferry fills up, much like a budget airline.
However, discount codes sometimes turn up for both Red Funnel and Wightlink which can lower the price considerably.
You can get 10% off Red Funnel with our booking widget, but Red Funnel discount codes of 20% or 25% have become more regular in the last couple of years. The best discount I ever saw was around Black Friday a couple of years ago when it was 50% off, although I think that was a car only deal and only certain dates.
Shareable Wightlink car ferry codes haven’t been quite so regular of late, but they have started giving out decent discounts via their MyLink loyalty scheme which is free to join.
A note of caution though before you get too excited – some of the discount codes are just for cars so won’t give you a discount with a caravan.
5. Decide whether you need the upgrades
Our £485 fare was for a ‘standard’ Wightlink fare rather than the ‘economy’ fare which would have been £29 cheaper. The main difference is to do with the cancellation policy – you can’t get your money back with the ‘economy’ option, but you can make amendments for free online.
6. Buy a smaller caravan
Ahem, I’ll admit this advice is as much use an inflatable dartboard if you already own a caravan.
I thought I’d mention this for anyone who is about to buy a caravan for regular Isle of Wight holidays. The price creeps up for every extra few centimetres, so it might be a factor worth considering.
For example, we found that an August 2020 Saturday return crossing with Red Funnel was £285 for a 5.5 metre long caravan or £325 for a 6.5 metre long caravan (£40 extra).
7. Use Tesco Clubcard vouchers
One of the best discounts available is the deal Wightlink has with Tesco Clubcard, which can be used with caravan bookings (last time I checked, October 2019).
Every £2.50 in Clubcard vouchers is worth £7.50 in ferry travel, so (for those who don't do maths) £50 in vouchers would be worth £150 in ferry travel.
8. Check fares with Wightlink and Red Funnel
Despite that £485 fare shown above, it isn't fair to say that either Red Funnel or Wightlink is always cheaper for caravan journeys to the Isle of Wight.
In our price comparison, Red Funnel was £60 cheaper during the day for a return crossing in August 2020 whilst Wightlink was a whooping £90 cheaper for a night time crossing on the same day.
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