How did we end up there?
So I have a confession to make before we even get started. I love going on so-called “Sun Holidays”. And by that, I don’t necessarily mean holidays in the sun. I mean holidays purchased through The Sun newspaper. Now I don’t personally read The Sun at all, and my husband claims to read it “only for the sport”. So for me it is a purely mercenary relationship. The Sun offers extremely discounted holidays to caravan parks in the UK and parts of Europe, and at the prices they offer, you really can’t go wrong. You usually have to collect vouchers by buying the paper a few days in a row and then book online.
Before I first went on one of these holidays, I scoffed at the idea, but have since been completely converted. Caravans offer loads of space in a quiet rural setting, while the park still offers many facilities you might find at a hotel, such as a swimming pool, bar and evening entertainment. With young children in tow, it’s great to have a kitchen to clean their special cups and bibs, prepare their snacks and emergency meals, and to keep some beer/wine/gin for yourself on standby. My husband and I also really love putting the children to sleep in their own bedroom and having adult time afterwards – something you don’t get in most hotels.
This holiday to the Isle of Wight is the first time in ages (and certainly since we’ve had kids) that we’ve had a “staycation” that didn’t involve visiting family. My husband is always keen to go abroad, but I want to see more of the UK because I grew up abroad and this country is just as exciting to me as anywhere else. So we finally agreed on the Isle of Wight because it’s <slightly> exotic, being an island and all. It looked to have nice beaches and slightly better than average weather for the UK.
My first choice of caravan park on the Isle of Wight was sold out, and I was offered two alternatives. I duly did my research and decided which of my remaining choices was better, and then accidentally booked the one I’d deemed the worst based on existing reviews. I wasn’t even drinking wine at the time. Like it or not, we were Thorness Bay bound.
One of the great benefits of the Isle of Wight is that it’s quite a quick journey compared to some other popular UK destinations, such as Cornwall. I haven’t been to Cornwall for a long time, but I seem to remember 7-8 hours drive culminating in winding single-lane roads where you had to back up to let oncoming traffic pass. It took us about 2 hours in rush hour traffic to get to the Southampton Red Funnel ferry terminal from Surrey, plus another (pleasant) hour on the ferry. It was then only about 15 minutes, give or take, to the holiday park. I’ve written a separate review about the ferry crossing.
TOP TIP: The ferry docks in East Cowes, which has a river separating it from Cowes (I don’t know why it’s just Cowes and not West Cowes). There is no bridge. I hear that the islanders are generally opposed to bridges. So you can either drive round the river or take the chain ferry. The chain ferry comes (supposedly) every 10 minutes and costs £2.20 for a car (cash only; exact change recommended). You queue up and wait an indeterminate time to squeeze onto a tiny ferry that is propelled across the river on, um, a chain. My 4-year-old (A) enjoyed it. Generally, it seems faster to drive round unless it’s rush hour, and of course you can then avoid the toll.
We paid extra to upgrade to the platinum caravan, which gains you an early (1:30pm) check-in. The early check in pretty much buys you an extra day to enjoy your holiday. The check-in was fast and the service was friendly.
I absolutely do not regret a single penny of the money I spent upgrading my caravan. The platinum lodge (what people in my homeland, America, would call a “double-wide trailer”) was massive, spotlessly clean and shiny new. Check out the pics:
We had a massive open-plan kitchen/diner/living room, a wraparound deck, 3 bedrooms, 2 toilet/shower rooms (one of which was en-suite to the master bedroom which also featured a walk-in closet), 4 TVs, a dishwasher and a washer/dryer! I have to admit that these facilities were generally finer than those in my own home.
I obviously cannot speak for the other ranges of caravans, but I’ll admit many of the others on the park looked old and tired, and had no decks, seating area or parking directly outside. To decide for yourself, see the Thorness Bay website.
The park has a small indoor pool, a large playground, sports pitches, a Nisa shop, a bar/restaurant and a range of entertainment for kids and adults. It also has direct access to a shingle beach on the bay.
The pool was just fine for young families. It was just the right temperature with a standard leisure pool bit, a toddler pool and a small flume. The changing room was basic but clean and sufficient, and featured free lockers that didn’t even need a temporary coin insertion, which was a real plus for me (I always lose the coin). The lifeguards were very friendly and competent. Various bits of swimming kit were on sale for reasonable prices. Children have to be 1 metre tall to ride the flume and confident to go down on their own (no double riders). My eldest got up the guts to go a couple times but mostly just stood at the top holding up the queue and looking worried. The main unfortunate thing about the pool was its extremely limited opening hours – about 2 hours in the morning and 2 hours in the afternoon – although apparently these are extended in peak season.
The shop had a good range of basics but we didn’t use it much. We were disappointed when it closed at one point outside of its normal closing times, supposedly to bring money somewhere due to an imposed requirement by the park. The park should stop doing that, if that’s really what was going on. We preferred to tour the various island supermarkets. There’s a decent Waitrose in East Cowes, a Lidl somewhere nearish to the park, and a Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s & M&S in nearby Newport.
The restaurant/bar had air-conditioned indoor seating and a lovely terrace overlooking the playground and the bay (pic of the view above). We had lunch there once and the food was fine. Kind of like what you get at your basic chain pub. Nothing special but just fine. The service was cheerful and friendly. We didn’t get round to seeing any of the entertainment but it looked like there was a good range for kids and adults. There was also an arcade attached.
The playground was large and beautiful. It had a range of equipment suitable for both toddlers and older kids. If you have older children you could easily watch them from the bar. Someday I will watch my children from the bar. The sports pitches looked good too but we didn’t use them.
The beach was much better than I thought it would be. There is a short, buggy-accessible walk down to it, or you could drive your car down as there is ample parking. There is a lovely grassy bit near the parking area where you could easily have a picnic or fly a kite. You could walk along the beach itself for many miles. It’s sandy near the top and shingle nearer to the water. When the tide is out there is plenty of scope for rockpooling, and there are lots of shells and rocks for the little ones to collect. The water seemed pretty safe and warmer than the English Channel water on the other side of the island, but you would probably need some of those swimming shoe thingies to save your feet from the rocks.
I paid £80 to book the basic “bronze” caravan. TripAdvisor reviews made me fear the bronze caravan, and so I upgraded to a “platinum” caravan for £145. I paid the optional bed making charge of £18/person (but you could bring your own sheets), a non-optional service charge of £7.25/night, and entertainment passes for £24/non-infant-person. I also paid £10 to borrow a travel cot. We then paid another £65 for the Red Funnel ferry (The Sun offers another discount for that). So for 2 adults, one child and one infant (under-2), it was £361.65 for a 5 day holiday in what can only be described as luxury accommodation. You obviously could do this for much cheaper than I did (no-frills at £174 or consider upgrading to silver or gold caravans).
I enjoyed my holiday immensely, despite accidentally booking the park I didn’t think I wanted. It was basic in some ways but its location was a great base of for exploring the island. It was generally clean and friendly and their top-of-the-range of accommodation was worthy of the name.
3 out of 5 shells