One thing you don’t have to worry about at the Olympic sailing events down in Weymouth & Portland is being the only one with a small person with you. In fact, I think the non-parents were probably outnumbered 3 to 1 at least. And it’s pretty much the ideal event for energetic kids. Why?
– Plenty of space to run around – there don’t seem to be any seats, it’s a picnic blanket on a grassy knoll sort of affair. With plenty of space and access for prams, you can load up on toys and snacks with wild abundance.
– The athletes can’t exactly hear you, so no need keep quiet at any time. Weasel could screech and run around to her heart’s content.
-Not as crowded as London venues – You won’t feel as packed in. You can even get a table at lunchtime in front of a screen (if not in the big tent, then at least at the smaller tents near the bar or at the far end past the disabled viewing platforms).
-Loos – no horrible, smelly blocked loos at 9am here, woohoo! They have proper loo blocks for the fort and extra portacabins. Much cleaner, much less horrible than the London ones, these were fully stocked and well-cleaned all day. The baby changing seemed to be in the permanent structures, but with the picnic blanket set-up, unless it were raining, you wouldn’t even need to use them.
-You can still get tickets – as this venue is very much out of the way (i.e. in the middle of nowhere), tickets still seem to come up on the website at prices payable by mortals. And failing that, there’s a free bit on the beach! Yes, you will mostly see big screens, but it is an awesome setting.
– Nothe Fort – free entry, but pick up tix when you get in, for them to adventure around in. Good, but no views from the top (we went up during a race thinking there would be awesome views off it). Weasel enjoyed counting invisible things (she was meant to be counting toy mice for a treasure hunt, but she didn’t quite get that). There is a lift, which was a pleasant surprise and a cafe on the middle floor. Would be nicer without all the marquees put up for some evening party there.
-They don’t have umbrellas as banned items on the sign, but at the entrance they’re carrying rulers and any umbrella, including your standard non-collapsible kid’s type, more than 30cm must be left outside. If told this nice bit of info in advance we would have happily left ours at home instead of having to store them in a bush with 50 others at the entrance to the site. Amusingly the claim was that they would fly off the cliff and impale people in boats. Ah, bless.
-Sorry local volunteers, but much less knowledgeable than the helpful London ones. Asking if there were stairs or just steep hills (to see if we needed to take the longer, disabled access route up), was met with blank stares, as was the question of ‘how do we get out of the fort?’.
-You aren’t going to be able to see everything like you would at say a handball event. A lot of stuff happens just around the corner or far, far away. Bring a good zoom lens and some binoculars. I think this bit is pretty obvious though.
Food: Decent selection. As everyone was strangely queuing for the pizza stand, we managed to walk straight up to the 3 stands we each wanted (husband – kebab, me – pie & mash, Weasel – sausage). There are no kids options as such, but a sausage in a ciabatta with cheese on top was £5. Most people planned in advance and brought picnics. Just remember no liquids over 100ml. Water fountains exist, but are a little more difficult to find than in the London venues.
Parking: Easier than expected. Don’t scoff at me for being all un-green and not using park & ride. Half the buses were empty and the ‘traffic chaos’ didn’t seem to exist. And we drive a hybrid so the only thing that keeps me up at night is husband’s incessant snoring. We parked at Debenhams; expensive £21, but we did stay 9 hours and park & ride wouldn’t have been cheap at £12. The car park was like something out of Fawlty Towers with seemingly random letters instead of numbers but numbers listed on the floors next to your car (we could only identify our floor in the end by the dead seagull), having to hit up to go down as the down buttons were broken on our floor (cue 5ive song stuck in head all day…), the lift sign in front of the entrance to the stairs and vice versa, stairs required to get to the lift unless you take the car ramp; all just ridiculous. Oh well.
Beach: Good venue to watch Olympics for free. This is an awesome, white-sand beach with a little funfair next to it. It got praise in the Guardian just a couple of days ago for its ‘sterling effort to move upmarket’. There are ramps and a separate entrance for buggies during the Olympics.
Sea Life Tower: Newly built, and the same as the awesome one we went on in Hong Kong, this will give you great views and make kids feel like they’ve been on a big ride. Get your Merlin passes out…
Where to have dinner: Stick to the old town, closest to the fort (although we decided to avoid a repeat of the Harbour Bridge Restaurant after a bad experience pre-kids with slow service and a live caterpillar with no apology). We stupidly walked over to the beachy bit and thought we’d give the Cactus Tea Room and Bistro a go. This was such a bad choice, almost instantly regretted.
Why? A sign on the window, noticed after ordering, said only older children allowed after 6pm, no kids menu or facilities (despite having a changing table in the loo) to be used after this time. This is a beach cafe complete with cafe furniture, a beachside location and cafe food. This is not a Michelin starred restaurant and this blew me away. We sat outside and 9 out of 10 tables had kids at them for dinner. The kind, but clearly brow-beaten by manager waitress, offered us a small portion, but we just decided to share our lasagna with Weasel in the end; a good choice given she decided to eat nothing. Despite being called a bistro, you order and pay inside in advance, you know, like a cafe. Then even bizarrely, the chef walked out, and despite being a Saturday night during the Olympic, right next to an Olympic venue (i.e. opportunity of a lifetime), they put up a closed sign and started turning people away (see genius sign below). This place is screaming out for Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares to come help them or I can’t imagine they’ll be there much longer.
Verdict: Go! But stick to the old town for dinner and take your beach gear to make it an awesome day out. And try not to forget your sunblock like we did – bad parent award of the day definitely goes to us for Weasel’s new rosy glow.