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.
Here’s some advice you wouldn’t have got on Wish You Were with Judith Chalmers - don’t attempt potty training when you have planned a week of trips to beaches and family attractions.
However, if you do end up in such a situation (which was child two's idea, I'd like to point out) you’ll find that you quickly get very proficient at hiding the fact that your daughter is sitting on a potty in the middle of Godshill’s Model Village. My apologies to the mother who appeared from behind a hedge and received an eyeful.
The best technique we found was to hide a potty in the underside of a pushchair and then rapidly whip it out and slide it underneath the seated child when nature called (which was six times at the Model Village). After a while it began to resemble an F1 pit stop with Mrs Guru and I both springing into action, which coincidentally rhymed with what we called it.
Anyway, enough about toilet habits.
The reason I mention such things is that we were already at a heightened level of tension when we visited Shanklin on a sunny day in August.
As Blondie would say, the tide was high but we took a trip to the beach nonetheless (she only said the first bit of that sentence obviously). The weather had previously been a bit iffy and a trip to the Isle of Wight without sitting on a beach is like a trip to the Louvre without seeing the Mona Lisa.
We had a jolly time on the beach, with child one leaping over tiny waves and child two trying to decide if she should be crying or enjoying herself.
Shanklin is a great beach for smaller children since it has sand, toilets at either end of the Esplanade and parking within a short walk of the beach. I much prefer a quiet beach with crumbly cliffs but I've learnt that keeping everyone else happy is the key to true tranquillity.
Eventually we lured the children away with a trip to the large arcade on Shanklin Esplanade, which is currently our favourite on the Island. My father enjoyed arcades as much as surgery so we never visited them, but I have made up for it with regular visits with our own children.
The downstairs section of the main Shanklin Arcade has been upgraded in recent years with fun new machines which involve throwing balls at clowns, bowling with animated monkeys, knocking over coconuts and playing a giant keyboard. I become desperately competitive as a flurry of red balls pours towards me and a counter ticks down. Even better are the yellow tokens which pour out at the end, offering a glorious sense of achievement.
As we are real masters of this, we managed to win ourselves 127 yellow tokens after spending a mere £10. In previous years, 127 tokens was worth £1.27 in the gift shop so the expression “the house always wins” comes to mind.
Nonetheless, it’s a good way to fill an hour if you can bear the noise and it’s particularly welcome if it’s raining outside.
We took our winnings to the counter and looked at the tempting array of future landfill and sugar which we could swap our tickets for.
After months of making the same parental mistake I now insist that the children choose the same thing, so we eventually reached a conclusion that they would each get a small plastic princess. They cost 120 tickets each, so I was prepared to pay the extra so that they could both have one. In previous trips I had entered the gift shop with a fist full of tokens and left with a bag full of toys and an empty wallet so I assumed this upgrading would be OK.
I handed over my tokens and explained that I would need to pay the extra for my second princess.
Unfortunately, the arcade attendant rapidly processed my tickets, handed over one princess and then at this point told me that purchasing extras was not allowed - disregarding the fact that it was actively encouraged last year when gifts were exchanged fifty metres away in the gift shop*
I clutched my lone princess and looked down at the two optimistic faces who were by now holding up their hands in expectation of receiving their prizes after an hour of ticket-winning.
At this point I had three options.
The first was to re-open negotiations with the gift attendant and explain that we would really like to swap our purchased item for two smaller items. This was not really an option as we had spent 20 minutes concluding that we wanted a princess and only had 10 minutes left on the parking ticket.
The second option was to promise the earth and whisk the children away as quickly as possible before they realised what had happened.
The third option was to run out of the arcade whilst screaming, jump off the sea wall and run into the sea.
I chose the second as giving wild promises without any plan about following through seems to be acceptable behaviour nowadays, and it was certainly preferable to a parking fine.
I told the children that there had been a ‘mix up’ but that ‘daddy will sort it’ and told them to head for the car.
Of course, I had no clue what ‘daddy will sort it’ actually meant but it sounded as if it might be expensive so they went along with it.
Back at the car, Mrs Guru and I discussed our options. Could they share the princess? Not a great option when one of them is two and was beyond tired by this point.
Should we spend another hour in the arcade trying to win another princess? It would certainly add an exciting edge to the games, but tea time was approaching and everyone was hungry. Plus, I had a feeling that we’d get to the counter again and find that it was closed.
Or should we slip the lady in the arcade a twenty pound note and see if she’d pass a princess under the counter? I considered it, but decided we weren’t quite that desperate.
And so, Mrs Guru made a dash to the adjacent giftshop in the hope that they had the same supplier of plastic tat as the arcade.
The rest of us waited in the car for 10 minutes before she returned looking crestfallen and empty handed.
And so, with all other options exhausted, we caved in and resorted to The Emergency Giant Chocolate Lolly which sits in the bottom of Mrs Guru’s bag.
Child one's eyes widened at the sight of the chocolate and the princess was soon forgotten. The princess is still sat in my glovebox and will probably stay there until we win a second princess at the arcade in a few month’s time.
And when my dentist asks why my children have tooth decay, I shall simply tell him this story.
*Incidentally, now that the steam has stopped coming out of my ears I have softened a little and concluded that sitting inside a dark booth handing out plastic toys must be a frustrating experience when you are 100 metres from a sandy beach. Especially when every other parents asks if they can pay a bit extra for the giant unicorn. I would look to formally retract the scowl I offered to the arcade attendant.
A couple of years ago I started a family tradition of asking everyone for their Wow Moment of the day during teatime.
I soon lost interest in the tradition but child two has taken on the role of asking everyone for their highlight of the day. The rules state that you have to come up with something original rather than just agreeing with the last person.
Usually, Mrs Guru and I just look at each other with a smirk after a day when our main objective has been to make it to bedtime without a tantrum in public.
“Er, I had a nice coffee this morning” is one of my favourite choices.
For once, I had a proper wow moment.
A friend had invited me to join his monthly full moon swim, which takes place at various locations on the Island. He has managed quite a few, but I waited until August before considering such things.
On this occasion we met at the Compton Farm end of Compton Bay. The steep steps make for a death-defying clamber down when you are carrying a bodyboard and wetsuit, but the view from the top is one of my favourites.
I was also carrying a Taste The Difference Victoria Sponge, since it had been a little while since I’d been invited to a party and had rather forgotten what people bring to such things. Plus, it was all I could find whilst rushing out the door after getting the children to bed.
After sharing my victoria sponge with bemused strangers and catching up with an also-invited old school friend after 17 years of non-contact, the moment finally arrived as the light of the moon began to appear over the cliffs towards Blackgang.
About 30 or 40 people jumped into the sea and my Wow Moment was just seconds away. Remarkably, it wasn’t the moment that I realised that one of my fellow swimmers was skinny dipping and I began to giggle like a schoolgirl.
As the full moon to our left lit up the sea, the summertime fireworks display at Alum Bay lit up the sky to our right. And so, I happily bodyboarded whilst the assembled swimmers cheered the arrival of the moon like they’d never seen it before.
I had a celebratory slice of sandy victoria sponge, whilst everyone else tucked into the barbecue.
The next day, my chance arrived as I was asked for my Wow Moment and began to share my tale.
“Sorry Daddy, it has to be something from today, that’s one of the rules” said child one.
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 £100 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 2018's prices at £46 for Blackgang Chine or £41 for Robin Hill
To be fair, a lot has been invested in both parks in the last 10 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 £100 (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. 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 last year 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.
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 £26 for anyone over the age of 4, or free for anyone under the age of 4. 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 the pricing structure is such that if you visit twice in a year (more than 7 days apart) then you would be best to get an annual pass for £39 or £74 for both 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
I’ve bundled these two together as they offer a modest saving. Honestly, neither deal makes my heart beat faster but they’re worth considering.
A £100 family ticket for Blackgang Chine in 2019 was £96 if you paid in advance. However, advanced tickets can’t be bought on the day, so is it worth the £4 saving to then find that the weather forecast was wrong or one of the children needs an unexpected trip to the GP?
A joint family ticket, bought in advance will cost you £174, a saving of about £15. So, it’s probably worth it if you are confident that you’ll be visiting both parks.
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 family ticket to Blackgang bought in advance is £76, compared to £96 whilst Robin Hill is £66 compared to £88
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...
I don't think I'm being unfair in saying that the Isle of Wight is often a few years behind the rest of the country. You won't find an Uber driver on the Island, the only trainline is using carriages from the 1930s and - as previously discussed - the first escalator didn't arrive until the mid-90s (now a B&M Bargains in Newport if you're interested in history).
It seems the Isle of Wight isn't so far behind in the realisation that we are choking the planet with our desire to wrap everything in plastic and then chuck it into a great big pile.
There are several people attempting to make the Isle of Wight a more environmentally-friendly place. Mrs Guru has been making some zero waste changes at home and has been hinting that we should highlight some local businesses who are big on sustainability. So here goes:
If you know of other local businesses which are aiming to use less plastic (or run one yourself) please give them a mention in the comments section below - this list is only intended to be a starter for 10 rather than a directory.
There's also a Facebook group called Journey to Zero Waste Isle of Wight which has more than 1000 members and has lots of ideas for avoiding plastic on the Island.
And finally, if you're interested in such things, take a look at the work of the Ellen Macarthur Foundation which is based in Cowes. They're one of the leading organisations for creating a 'circular economy' and work with some of the biggest companies in the world.
Before we get started, I'd like to make it clear that this week's/month's blog will be of interest to a very small audience.
During a spare 10 minutes when I should have been doing something more useful - like clearing out the guttering - I went on a journey through time to the Isle of Wight in the 1990s. Some would argue that the Isle of Wight of 2019 is pretty similar to the Isle of Wight of 1998 but such people clearly haven't trawled through ferry websites or been to Asda in Newport.
For those interested in such things, we can gaze in wonder at the terrible graphics thanks to the Wayback Machine which is a glorious archive of how the world wide web looked in its early days.
Let's start back in 1998 at the Red Funnel homepage:
My questions from this gem include:
Meanwhile, here's what Wightlink were up to in 1998:
Of course, you'll have noticed from the headline that Wightlink were predicting the rise of Derek Sandy and his smash hit 'Welcome to the Isle of Wight'.
Also note that dinosaur digs were worthy of about one third of the homepage. Was this thanks to the Jurassic Park sequels? Or was it because the dinosaurs had only recently died out in 1998? We shall never know.
I continued my time wasting by clicking the link to 'children's pages' on the Wightlink homepage (below). It doesn't specify a closing date, so I plan to print off a picture of Our Lady Pamela and get the kids to colour it in.
When I hand it in to the ticket office I'll just say 'sorry for the 21-year delay, I was waiting for the kids to be born'.
Next up is Hovertravel, which had the word 2000 written on their homepage, despite it being December 1998 according to Wayback Machine. Perhaps it was just a reminder that armageddon was not far away thanks to the Millennium Bug.
It seems to me that there was a pleasant simplicity and politeness to the World Wide Web in those days with phrases such as 'We are pleased to introduce' from Hovertravel and patient explanations from Wightlink about how to navigate the site (since no-one really knew what they were doing). Red Funnel meanwhile said they 'would be happy' to add a link to any 'great Island website' in a way which suggests that there were only about 11 people online in 1998 (which is almost true - honestly kids, you could actually buy paper books which were just lists of useful websites).
Next up, we'll take a look at the first website for the Isle of Wight Festival which appeared in 2002. From the pictures, this archive looks to be from around July or August 2002, shortly after Rock Island.
I don't think I'm risking controversy in saying that the festival's graphic design work has improved a wee bit in 17 years.
The two day festival was only £40 if you lived on the Island and bought it long enough in advance. Although, as I've said before, I still think the Isle of Wight Festival is good value compared to most festivals (the early bird Islander ticket was £115 for four days for 2020, and the modern festival doesn't really compare on scale).
Finally, I treated myself to a bit of self indulgence by looking for the first version of Isle of Wight Guru.
Honestly, I wish I hadn't bothered.
I'm certainly not going to claim that our current design is the world's greatest...but our first attempt was a Grade A stinker. And it wasn't 1998 either, it was 2013.
I'm pretty sure 'soft play areas' didn't exist when I was a child.
Don't worry, I'm not going to start a tabloid columnist's rant about the nanny state, I just don't think anyone had thought of opening one when I would have been the target audience.
Either that or my parents couldn't bear the thought of spending Saturday in a ball pool and made efforts to avoid them.
Nowadays, we find them to be a very welcome shelter on a wet day. It's certainly preferable to spending an entire holiday completing a jigsaw puzzle in a caravan whilst raindrops race down the window.
We recently tried out the Isle of Wight's newest soft play area, which is called Monkey Madness and which opened at Amazon World earlier this year. It's part of the same company but it operates as a separate attraction to the zoo, so you pay for each one individually.
There seems to be two different approaches to pricing at soft play areas. The first option is that you charge a modest amount for everyone, regardless of age. Parents end up paying a few quid to drink coffee and stare at their phones, whilst children get great value for their ticket.
The second option - which is the one chosen by Monkey Madness - is that you don't charge the parents much (£1) and you cover your costs by charging the kids more (£7.50 for 4-14, £4 for 1-3s at the time of writing).
Most of the time it averages out about the same, but you do end up with winners and losers. A friend who had visited Monkey Madness before us remarked that they thought it was expensive for her and the four children she had brought along (£31 by my reckoning). However, we concluded that it was a bit of a bargain for us with three adults, a six year old and a two year old (£14.50).
We found a table and passive aggressively marked our territory by dumping our selection of bags and drinks bottle.
Our younger one is still in need of a little assistance at these places, so I enthusiastically offered to follow her round. I shall be a little saddened in a few months' time when I'm no longer needed to provide such duties. On the plus side, I shall be able to go back to having the occasional uninterrupted conversation with Mrs Guru.
The signage provided a little confusion, since one list of instructions insisted that parents supervise children at all times, whilst another begrudgingly accepted that parents might need to go on the play area with younger children but that they should definitely stay out of the ball pool.
Nonetheless, we spent a very happy couple of hours exploring the play area which is a really good size and with lots of carefully thought out things to climb over and slide down. I pretended that I wasn't enjoying myself too much and tried to keep up with the younger one whilst admiring the various animals which decorate the play area. The six year old needed no encouragement to race around until she was bright red and eventually realised she might like a drink.
It was also exceedingly clean, which is a real blessing compared to some of the plasters-and-empty-crisp-packet experiences we've had on that mainland.
I didn't get the tape measure out, but I reckon it is probably the biggest soft play area on the Isle of Wight (comment below if you think otherwise). Tapnell Farm's indoor area is bigger as a whole, but the soft play bit isn't quite as big. The play areas on Sandown Pier, Shanklin Esplanade and at JR Zone in Newport are all good sizes but Monkey Madness gives them a good run for their money on scale. It certainly felt spacious and able to accommodate a good number of people without becoming unbearably noisy. Jungle Jim's in Shanklin is cheaper but the low ceilings make it feel a bit cosy when it's busy (see our toddlers guide for more ideas for days out with the naps-and-nappies brigade).
There are still a couple of things which - I think I'm right in saying - are being worked on at Monkey Madness. The toilets at the time were a walk away in the Amazon World Cafe, which would be a faff if you were a lone parent looking after several children. The cafe was nice enough but wasn't quite the latte-and-macchiato experience that parents expect nowadays - the milk was that long life stuff which comes in irritating little plastic pots which don't contain enough liquid to drown a fly.
Still, a definite thumbs up for Monkey Madness which is another decent time filler on an Isle of Wight rainy day. And it's also great to see another Isle of Wight attraction continuing to invest, rather than assuming that people will keep coming back to the same thing year after year.
Don't forget to bring your socks, and keep out of the ball pool please, Dads.
And so, Sunday arrived, along with a feeling of sadness that the Isle of Wight Festival would soon be over for another year, combined with a wee bit of relief that we could get an early night on Monday.
The main act we were looking forward to on Sunday was not Biffy Clyro, Keane or Richard Ashcroft, though I have a level of interest in all of those.
No, the big event for us was Bjorn Again at 1.35pm on the Main Stage.
For the last year, the first Mamma Mia soundtrack has been going round and round in my car, at the request of the children. They've never seen the film (I'm not sure they're ready for the saucy bits) but they still insist on every car journey involving Honey Honey and a medley of other Abba hits.
You'd think this repetition might be a bit much, but I've decided to embrace it. Whenever one of them was on the verge of a public tantrum over the weekend, I distracted them with a reminder that we would 'soon be seeing the Mamma Mia band'.
They were so excited by this, that I decided not to explain that it was a covers band. I've since wondered if I could get away with persuading them that Blackgang Chine is actually Disneyland, but perhaps that would be pushing it.
I danced awkwardly with the two year old as Bjorn Again worked their way through Dancing Queen, Take A Chance et al. Child one could probably have watched for another three hours, but it soon came to an end and we spent a happy afternoon trying on princess dresses in the Kidzone. Kudos to the dad who was there at the same time as us and managed to squeeze into a Snow White outfit designed for a nine year old.
Most remarkable in 2019 is that the weather held out. Sure, we had the odd smattering of rain but the site remained habitable thanks to a combination of Isle of Wight sunshine and lashings of wood chippings.
Granny Guru is thoughtful enough to live in a house near the festival, and also willing to be on babysitting duty for the weekend, so we manoevured the children to bed and returned in time for a final evening.
As Richard Ashcroft led us in a singalong of Bittersweet Symphony I began to get a little emotional about the whole thing. I didn't exactly start weeping in front of Mrs Guru, but I did feel a whiff of pride that the Isle of Wight manages to host once of the biggest and best festivals in the country, despite being a rather small place which didn't even get an escalator until the mid-90s.
Many of the UK's other big festivals from my youth have moved or disappeared (V Festival, Bestival and T in the Park most notably) but the Isle of Wight Festival has kept on bringing culture, jobs and attention to the Isle of Wight for which it deserves a heap of credit.
Good job, Isle of Wight Festival. Good job (*sorry, got something in my eye*)
Here's one final selection of the 'official' photos from Isle of Wight Festival, featuring the likes of Richard Ashcroft, Biffy Clyro and Madness.
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