Category Archives: Holidays

Titanic Experience, Belfast – Review

Some time in the summer of 2014, my two biggest kids developed a fascination with all things Titanic. I’m not quite sure why or how this came about, but for a couple of months it was question after question – was it really the biggest ship in the world? How many people drowned? How did the rest of them survive? Why didn’t someone see the iceberg? Why were they on a ship at all – aren’t planes loads quicker? Why didn’t someone just call 999 on their mobile phone?

Even the endless Minecraft videos were ditched in  favour of searching for Titanic related footage – once they had got over the shock that nobody had a smartphone to video its final moments they consoled themselves with reconstructions – this one, from the National Geographic, was their favourite. Until of course they happened across the inevitable Minecraft reimaginings of the story – I kid you not, there’s one right here, and plenty more where that came from!

Minecraft aside, I think this is the first time that my kids have shown more than a passing interest in any historical event, and this, along with the fact that I wanted to nip my eldest’s fear of flying in the bud, led me to book a trip to visit the Titanic Experience in Belfast. (This also meant that I got to spend a couple of days with my lovely friend but that is neither here nor there – oh no, it’s all about the kids, honest!)

I didn’t know what to expect from the exhibition at all, though I did vaguely wonder if there would be enough material around the fairly short life of the Titanic to keep the kids interested for a reasonable amount of time. In fact the opposite was true – there was plenty to keep us occupied and with hindsight I’d probably plan a slightly longer visit with a lunch break in the middle.

The Titanic Experience is structured around nine galleries, charting the story of the ship from ‘Boomtown Belfast’ right through to ‘Visit and Explore the Wreck’. Though the galleries all deal with different aspects of the story,  they are structured so that you’re not really aware of passing from one to another – rather, are you are drawn along the storyline, living the experience along with all those involved.

Though the kids were initially keen to get to the bit where the Titanic actually sank (obviously the disaster bit is the most exciting!) they were soon drawn in by the clever storytelling, and the brilliant presentation. Instead of simply reading about the life of children in Belfast at the turn of the century, they got to peer into windows:

Titanic Experience


Instead of just hearing morse code messages they got the chance to learn to transmit the CQT signal (the precursor to the more familiar SOS distress call):


…and rather than simply looking at structural plans of the ship they could dance in and out and through a constantly moving projection!

Titanic Experience


Best of all, those clever guys at the Titanic Experience had figured out that there is nothing like including an actual RIDE  in the middle of a museum to make it as much fun as possible for kids – so the Shipyard section of the story started with a trip up to the top of the replica of the huge Arrol Gantry, before entering pods which took us up close and personal with the noise, the heat and light and the sheer size of the project to put the Titanic together.

The excitement of the ship’s first launch followed, and there was a real sense of the pride that Belfast felt when this huge monster of a liner finally hit the water – empty and naked at this stage but a massive achievement nonetheless, with the glory and excitement shared by all from the Chief Engineer to the lowliest boiler boy.

At this point of the exhibition the ship begins to take on the characteristics we know so well – the huge funnels are added, the outside is painted in its distinctive colours and of course the insides are fitted out with the opulence of the First Class Quarters and ballroom contrasting strongly with the third class facilities; the kids loved seeing the cabins all made up exactly as they would have been. No less interesting to my number loving boy was the information about what was taken on board the Titanic – 40,000 eggs; 15,000 bottles of beer (‘Daddy would have been alright, then’) and even a couple of cars destined for New York!

The kids were beginning to flag a bit at this point and with hindsight I’d have planned for a break here. However the prospect of seeing the Titanic’s disastrous end perked them up, and so we followed the chain of events right up to the heartbreaking last messages:

Titanic Experience


And of course the sinking itself was brought to life brilliantly with a giant on screen depiction which the kids watched over and again. Even though it’s an old story, many times retold,  it was hard not to feel a real sense of loss for the ship and all the people whose stories were so inextricably linked – passengers, crew, engineers, labourers. This I this I think is the real marker of success for the Titanic Experience – it really does bring the story to life all around you.

The final three galleries dealt with the aftermath of the sinking, the inquiries on both sides of the Atlantic and the lessons learnt which influence maritime safety training to this day. There was also a fascinating section on how the media portrayed the tragedy, with stories of reporters doorstepping victims for the juiciest tales, and where no juiciness was forthcoming, making it up – plus ça change!! I would have liked to spend more time here but the kids were eagerly pulling me towards the final section, ‘Explore the Wreck’ and once I followed them I could see why – the chance to explore the wreck in life-size detail. My photos of this bit are truly awful so here’s one I pinched from the Titanic Experience website – as you can see the lighting is set to recreate the underwater gloom surrounding the wreck, it was quite a shock to emerge blinking into the light afterwards!

Titanic Experience


The fact that this review is turning into one of my longest ever posts will probably give you an idea of how much there is to say about the Titanic Experience – and there’s plenty from my scribbled notes that I have left out. If you’re wondering whether it’s worth a visit, I would say unreservedly YES – even if you’re not in the midst of a Titanic obsession like my kids, it’s a brilliant way to spend a day. As an added bonus, I have it on very good authority that Father Christmas himself is spending some time there over the next couple of weeks!

If you’d like more information on the Titanic Experience, including special events and family days, check out their website – and also Discover Northern Ireland will give you plenty more ideas for things to see and do in this beautiful part of the world. If you’ve already been lucky enough to visit, I’d love to hear what you thought in the comments below!

**Disclosure – we were given free entry into the Titanic Experience in exchange for an honest review of our visit**

Our summer of football

I wasn’t expecting the World Cup to make much difference to our Summer one way or the other, except for the Husband’s inevitable slump when England got knocked out. Yes, he’s a Welshman. Yes, he supports England at football, though never, ever at rugby. No, I don’t understand – apparently ‘it’s complicated’.

Anyway, complicated aside, all the world cup really meant for me was the opportunity to binge watch everything on my Netflix list in peace and quiet while the Husband watched the matches on the TV. And of course to get fleeced on the ubiquitous Panini stickers and Match Attax cards, not to mention deflecting the endless begging for Fifa 14 on the Wii.

And indeed all that did happen, as expected. What was a real surprise though was that along with all that, they seemingly couldn’t get enough of playing the game itself! Yes! With a real ball! In the fresh air! In teams! With vitamin-c packed oranges at half time! That’s, like, LOADS of good parenting points RIGHT THERE! *polishes halo*

As soon as school was out the three of them would head into the garden to play three-and-in. If the Husband was home, he was pressed into service for a two on two match (no, before you ask, my co-ordination skills are apparently not up to scratch – I was pretty quickly demoted to bringer of snacks). But to be honest I was happy watching – watching my biggest boy’s confidence in his ability improving day by day; watching my girl in the middle refusing to be outdone by the three boys, and watching my littlest boy learning that the world doesn’t stop when he’s not on the winning side. Took a while, that last one, mind.

It  won’t be long now until the shorter days put paid to pre-bedtime garden kickabouts, and of course the World Cup excitement has long since faded into the background. But for the moment, we’re squeezing as much fun as we can from our Summer of Football!

Throw in
You need a hi-vis for a throw-in you know.
Football in the garden
Spot the ball…


Football Skillz
We call her Golden Crocs.

I’m linking up with  #Countrykids with Coombe Mill – why not head over for more fun and frolics in the fresh air, and plenty of inspiration to enjoy the great outdoors!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Prague and why we will be back soon…with the kids!

Prague…we very nearly didn’t get there, but we made it – just – and boy am I glad we did! We had a brilliant time, the birthday boy was well and truly taken by surprise, and we had a really lovely weekend of eating, drinking and making merry in truly brilliant company. Just what the doctor ordered, actually, so THANK YOU Czech friends for making it possible for me to be there – and equally to the UK contingent who took part in the childcare relay!

In the blur of the baby and toddler years, I had forgotten just how much I loved the Czech Republic. We used to visit a couple of times a year before we had kids and I am pretty sure we blithely assumed that we would carry on doing so; looking back, we did visit twice with our biggest boy, and then once after his sister had appeared. That final trip was hard work. One was getting over chickenpox and the other was just starting it; all I can remember was being exhausted and blurry and though we never actually made a decision to stop visiting, it just sort of disappeared off the agenda of what felt copable-with, especially after our third arrived. Luckily for us, our lovely Czech friends visited the UK in between times, so I guess I sort of didn’t really notice that we’d stopped going there, if that makes sense.

I’m so, so glad that I went, this time. Even after a gap of six and a half years, and having lost all (and I do mean – ALL!) of my basic Czech in the meantime, I still felt immediately at home when we stepped off of the plane, and even more so when we left the city the next day for our friend’s surprise party. A huge part of this was about slipping back into easy friendships – including reconnecting with some folk that we hadn’t seen since our wedding back in 2002 – plenty to catch up on!

But it was also about remembering how much I love the Czech countryside, and even more than that, the fact that the Czechs themselves are so good at enjoying the great outdoors, just as it is. I’m certainly guilty of overlooking that sometimes – when I’m trying to figure out how to entertain the kids, I’m always focussed on things to do, and places to visit, much more than simply just getting outdoors and exploring.  When we arrived at Hotel Kouty for the party, the first thing the Husband and I said to each other was ‘wow, the kids would LOVE it here’ – yet there was nothing but a lake, a forest, and a couple of climbing frames.  No overpriced ice cream and coffee joints; no ridiculously expensive pedalos, no rides, no amusements, no crazy golf, none of the stuff they clamour for just because it’s there. But we were right – they would have loved it, and we need to remember that a bit more, rather than always be looking for places with ‘stuff to do’.

I was also reminded how refreshing the Czech approach to parenting is, something I had noticed and hoped to emulate before I had kids myself – but, swept away with all the advice and rules and self flagellation that appears from nowhere the minute you pop one out, I had completely forgotten about. While we were over there, most of our friends’ kids (aged between 5 and 12) were away at camp, where they stayed for 12 days or so, doing all sorts of outdoor activities, with no parental contact whatsoever. My initial reaction was – 12 days? How would my kids manage without me for 12 days? They’d miss me terribly! Who would make sure they were taking their asthma puffs, cleaning their teeth properly, wearing respectable pants? However it gradually dawned on me that this was more about me and my anxieties, and the fact that I’d miss them terribly, rather than about how they would actually cope.  Which would probably be pretty well, particularly if they were with their siblings and friends, and if it was simply what everyone did every year. I’m not quite ready to send them off to camp just yet, but I am reminded that I should try and distinguish between what is good for them, and what feels comfortable to me, and not get the two things mixed up.

It also dawned on us while we were away that while a trip abroad with kids who were say 6, 4 and 18 months felt like something we didn’t even want to consider, travelling when they are 9, 7 and 4½ is a whole different ball game, and perhaps it’s time to get back on the horse, so to speak! All the more since while we’ve been spawning, so has everyone else, and there are plenty of other children for them to play with while we get to have some quality time with our chums.

So, all in all a successful trip, and one we are hoping to repeat in the not-too-distant future, this time en famille! To Be Continued!