Summer Spectacular at Brunel’s SS Great Britain
Despite Bristol being only half an hour away, it is not a city that I have really explored since having the girls. However, there are lots of family-friendly attractions that make it a great city to visit with children. This weekend we headed down to Bristol as we were invited to check out the Summer Spectacular at the SS Great Britain.
The SS Great Britain is located at the Great Western Dockyard, where she was originally built. The ship was designed by Isambard Kingdom Brunel and was the world’s first great ocean liner. Tickets to Brunel’s SS Great Britain cost £17 per adult, £10 per child (5-16 years old) and under 4s go free A family ticket costs £47 (2 adults and upto 3 children) and there is a 5% discount if you book online. Tickets are great value as you are able to explore the ship, dockyard, Dockyard Museum, Being Brunel museum and the dry dock. Even better, they include unlimited return visits for a year.
If you visit during the summer holidays you can also catch performances from The Invisible Circus. On the hour, every hour between 11am and 3pm visitors are able to witness exhilarating stunts and aerial displays as the performers fling themselves from the rigging and passengers juggle luggage, telling the story of life-changing voyages on board the world’s first great ocean liner. We caught 3 shows during our visit. Each one was different, with the performers portraying dockworkers, ship crew and passengers. We really enjoyed the show on the ship’s deck, where two of the cast performed amazing aerial acrobatics.
Another great activity to do on a sunny day is Go Aloft! You are able to step into the shoes of a Victorian sailor and climb the huge main mast of the SS Great Britain. As tempting as the amazing view would be, I couldn’t really face the idea of climbing up to 26m above the ground to get to the viewing platform. If you are braver than I am, you’ll be securely strapped into a harness and briefed, before climbing up the rigging. Tickets cost £10 and you will be able to buy them on the day of your visit on the Weather Deck.
The SS Great Britain is a great place to visit with children. There are plenty of hands-on activities for them to do across all areas of the exhibition. The girls particularly enjoyed becoming Brunel’s Apprentices for the day (another activity included in the ticket price). They were given a satchel filled with all the tools they needed to access four activities in the dockyard and on board the ship. The idea was for them to explore the SS Great Britain, solve problems and learn some of the many skills that make a great engineer.
Even without this, there were lots to keep children entertained, whilst learning about Brunel and the ship. I particularly enjoyed the stories about some of the passengers told through the boarding cards. You could find out more about their stories by scanning the cards in the Dockyard Museum. I had chosen a First Class passenger who travelled aboard the SS Great Britain to Australia, but returned to England as the climate was too hot. She did sound a bit like me to be honest. Emily managed to choose a crew member who ended up being dismissed from service due to being a drunkard, so probably the least said about that, the better!
If you have children (or adults) who enjoy dressing up, there are plenty of opportunities to have fun pretending that you are a Victorian lady, gent or child. There are plenty of Brunel’s famous stovepipe hats, as well as bonnets and crinolines in the Flash, Bang, Wallop! exhibit.
The relatively new Being Brunel museum explores the life and legacy of Isambard Kingdom Brunel. It displays are very balanced view of the man, showcasing his amazing achievements but also reminding us of his many faults and failures. Here, the girls loved riding in the replica railway carriages, where they were challenged to draw a perfect circle whilst the carriages were “moving”.
Despite all of these interactive displays, the girls said that they enjoyed the Dry Dock best of all. I think this is down to the really unique view of the ship that you get here. To keep the air as dry as possible the Dry Dock has been sealed by a huge water-line glass plate. The plate surrounds the ship, flooded with a shallow layer of water to give the illusion of being afloat. It is fascinating to see the parts of the ship which would normally be under water, particularly the huge propellor. However, maintaining the conditions needed to preserve the ship, means that the air in the Dry Dock is as arid as the Arizona Desert, and on a hot day, you won’t want to spend too long down here.
We had a fantastic day and would thoroughly recommend a visit to the SS Great Britain. Despite being so much to do, being able to visit as many times as you want for a year, means that you can take your time to thoroughly explore this amazing ship and its rich history.
Disclaimer: We were provided with day tickets to the SS Great Britain, but all thoughts and opinions are our own.