Category Archives: Reviews

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**

Review – La Redoute Blackout Curtains

I’ve been thinking about getting blackout curtains for my littlest boy’s room for a while now. He is programmed to wake at first light which makes the Summer very hard work indeed, and even now, when it’s not light till a more civilised hour, I’d rather he slept a bit longer at the weekends, partly because it might make the hours between 5pm and 7pm a bit less horrendous, and partly because I wouldn’t mind a lie in occasionally!

So when La Redoute kindly asked me if I’d like to review anything from their range I was on the point of choosing some clothes for the kids, when I suddenly remembered seeing a homeware section in their catalogue. I had a quick look through and was really pleased to discover that there were indeed a great range of blackout curtains in a variety of colours and styles – so I put my order in for some Voda curtains straight away and waited in excitement for the New Era of Not Stupidly Early Mornings!

As usual with La Redoute, the parcel delivery was swift and no-hassle. I chose to have this delivered to my door but there is also an option for free delivery to any shops in the Parcelshop network, which is a great way of saving some pennies if you order frequently.

When the curtains arrived I didn’t waste much time in putting them up – they came with integral eyelets so it was a very quick job. The more traditional pinch pleats are available, as well as pretty tab-tie tops, so you can pick whatever style suits you best. Once the curtains were up I wasn’t sure how dark they would actually be, as the material didn’t seem as thick as I’d expected for blackouts. But I needn’t have worried – they did indeed keep out every speck of light, to the extent that I have had to purchase a nightlight for my four year old! And – drum roll please – he slept until the grand hour of 7.30am this weekend – it’s not much,  but I’ll take it!

I would certainly recommend these curtains to anyone looking for a blackout solution – they do exactly what they’re supposed to, and they’re much less fiddly than the blackout blinds I had been looking at beforehand. I think they are relatively expensive (my curtains were £90,  however seasoned La Redoute shoppers will know that there are regular offers and discount codes available which can bring prices down significantly.

One note of caution though – La Redoute sells and prices all its curtains singly rather than as pairs – this saves waste if you only have a narrow window, but could potentially cause confusion if you’re used to buying curtains in the traditional sets of two, so make sure you double check before you buy!

Now, I’m off to bed in eager anticipation of a lie-in tomorrow – thank you La Redoute!

**Disclosure – these curtains were provided free of charge by La Redoute for the purposes of an honest review**

Lazy Jacks on test in Death Valley

One of the great things about where we live is that we have three parks within easy walking distance. One’s the lovely Bute Park, alongside the River Taff, which is huge; one is the smaller Victoria Park, and the nearest one to us is Thompson Park. This last is the family favourite – although it doesn’t boast play equipment and ice cream stalls like the other two, it does contain the legendary (at least in Canton folklore) Death Valley!

Depending on which one of my kids you believe, it’s either named Death Valley because a small boy was once hunted down and killed by wolves there, or because certain death awaits anyone who ventures in after dark. Whichever it is, Death Valley has been the scene of lots and lots of fun, as well as ripped clothing, the occasional lost shoe,  a possible broken nose accompanied by two definite black eyes, and bumps, bruises and twisted ankles galore. When they go in, you never really know what they’ll come out with….except for one thing – and that’s mud, mud, glorious MUD. It’s not so bad this time of year but give it another couple of months when the ground’s been churned up by hundreds of exploring feet and we’re well into washing-machine-busting territory.

So all in all,  it seemed a good place to go to put our latest delivery of Lazy Jacks Clothing through its paces. We were lucky enough to review some gorgeous tops last year, and those lovely folk in the Lazy Jacks office are clearly still labouring under the delusion that someone actually reads this blog (shhhh) so they’ve kindly sent us some pieces from their latest catalogue too. My littlest boy received some trousers which – get this – have a MAGNIFYING GLASS POCKET! I kid you not – here, have a look!


Well, that’s him happy…and I’m happy too, because the trousers are hard wearing on the outside for all that Death Valley has to offer, but also soft and lovely on the inside for my youngest’s delicate legs (bless), with cute blue turnups to boot.


My girl-in-the-middle received a lovely long sleeved 2-in-one teeshirt – perfect for this time of year when it’s not quite snuggly hoodie weather, but not really warm enough for short sleeves. She loved it on sight – I thought she could do with a slightly smaller size so was going to exchange it but I was told in no uncertain terms that she was keeping it! She hasn’t really taken it off since. Here’s a picture of her tackling the climbing tree at the bottom of Death Valley…no, those sleeves didn’t stay white for long, but I’m pleased to report that like all Lazy Jacks gear this top washes really well.

IMG_3938 And my biggest boy received a very cool Grandad top – perfect attire for grubbing around looking for the remains of wolf-savaged small children. He was a bit wary at first – apparently it looks too much like one of my various navy-blue-striped tops (what? You don’t want to look like your ultra-stylish Mother? WHY ON EARTH NOT????) but once he’d put it on he decided that it looked different enough after all. And I have to say, though I may be biased, that it looks great on him, though it does make him look very grown up (sob).

IMG_3937Because I like to make reviews a good read as well as a straightforward product writeup,  I’m trying to think of a creative and interesting way to bring you the news that you’ve already figured out – which is that I’m more than happy with our Lazy Jacks clothes and would highly recommend them for design, quality and durability. But, creative and interesting be damned, perhaps I should just tell it like it is…here goes…ready now? Right….I’m more than happy with our Lazy Jacks clothes and would highly recommend them for design, quality and durability. There. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Oh, I did…twice…hmmm. Really, really got to put a stop to this blogging with gin.

Anyways, if you need more convincing, why not head over to the Lazy Jacks site and have a browse through their new Autumn/Winter goodies  (there’s some fab grownup clothes there as well by the way) – and you can of course keep up with the latest on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest, where you’ll find some much better photos than mine!

ps on that note, because I’m a rubbish photographer my children refuse to stand still and be photographed, I’ve included some catalogue images below for you.

**Disclaimer – we were kindly sent these items free of charge in exchange for an honest review**

Children’s casual trousers £25.99
2-in-1 Long Sleeved Tee £21.99
Boy’s Long Sleeve Grandad Top £21.99

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall