I am a freelance travel writer creating memories with a 'can do' mind set. I enjoy stepping outside my comfort zone to explore, learn & share. Visit my blog at www.fionatrowbridge.com
Published November 16th 2017
Where else would you find warships and museums so much fun?
It had been 35 years since the Mary Rose, Henry VIII's flagship, first came to my attention as I watched it being raised from the depths of the Solent on the Children's TV show, Blue Peter. So I thought it was about time I paid the old lady a visit in her home at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard.
I was expecting the Historic Dockyard to be filled with museums of British naval history and related exhibitions, famous flagships and battleships commanded by admirals. I did indeed see all that, but what I wasn't expecting was the vast array of wonderful child-friendly experiences with so many interactive activities.
Portsmouth Historic Dockyard has 11 different attractions, all of which are available with the standard All Attraction Ticket which also allows unlimited return visits for a whole year. This is a great deal because there is no way I could absorb everything the dockyard had to offer in one day.
The first thing I did was to hop on the little 'Jenny' boat for a 45-minute tour of the harbour. Not only did the captain provide useful and funny anecdotal information about the ships in the dockyard and the surrounding structures, like the story of HMS Dragon below, but I also got a feel for the layout of the museums and realised why it wouldn't be possible to fit them all into one visit - some of them were accessed by waterbus and located on the other side of the harbour – included in the ticket price.
HMS Dragon - The Royal Navy didn't like the red dragon on the bow of the ship and painted it over with their dark grey. However when it went back up to Scotland for a refit, it returned with the red dragon painted back on.
Each exhibition I visited had a unique and interesting way of presenting its story. On HMS Victory, Nelson's flagship, I was given a handheld audio guide which was triggered when pointed at a beacon on the ship. At that point, a description of what was taking place at that spot on the ship on September 14th 1805 commenced, including details about Nelson and the cannon that shot and killed him.
As I entered Boathouse No4, I met the next generation of enthusiastic boat builders learning new skills before I headed for the mezzanine level for an overview of the workshop below and the opportunity to climb to the top of the crow's nest in the Mast and Rigging experience. For those that were too small to climb the rigging, they could race some cutters across the sea, like the horse racing derby game at a fairground.
Climb the rigging to the top and ring the bell. (Height Restrictions Apply)
Fun while you learn' continued in Action Stations where after watching a film about the Royal Navy's battle against modern-day piracy, I slipped into a flight simulator before failing miserably on physical challenges used by the Royal Marines. There was so much to do in Action Stations that I can see families spending a whole day in there.
Action Stations for Physical Assault Course, Flight Simulator and Weapon Practice
I spent most of my time in the award-winning Mary Rose Museum and I could have spent longer. Everyone was in awe at the viewing galleries allowing panoramic views of the whole ship from the hull to the upper deck. Each level had floor to ceiling glass except the upper deck which only had a balcony and I felt as though I was in the same room as the Mary Rose herself. Artefacts from the ship were on display in well-lit exhibition halls at each end of each level of the ship and to keep younger visitors entertained, while those keen to find out more could read the detailed descriptions, interactive screens with relevant quizzes and games were dotted among the displays. The visiting school party and I were wowed by the vignettes of the crew aboard the Mary Rose which were projected onto the ship at regular intervals.
Viewing Platforms at the Mary Rose Museum with Vignettes Being Projected onto the Ship