Taking the kids to Dismaland, Weston-super-Mare

I’ve never known the train from Bristol to Weston-super-Mare to be as busy as it was last weekend. The usual assortment of day trippers had been replaced by hip twenty-somethings and American tourists; all left standing in the aisles as there were no seats available.

Dismaland
Dismaland

The reason? Banksy’s Dismaland bemusement park on the seafront at Weston. This antithesis of a theme park has opened for 6 weeks on the site of the old Tropicana lido. We didn’t have tickets but I’d heard that on the day tickets were available for those prepared to queue. We arrived just as they were closing the morning queue so the security man suggested we came back later for the afternoon session. That was fine for us as it meant we had time for a trip to PJ’s Ice Cream Parlour, a wander around the pier and lunch.

Get your programmes here! Dismaland
Get your programmes here! Dismaland

We were back queuing at 2.30pm. At 3pm the ticket office opened and a cheer went up. At 4.30pm we got our tickets. The kids were surprisingly good about queuing for so long and I knew the minute I handed the money over that it would be worth the wait. I thanked the ticket attendant and he replied that I wouldn’t be thanking him when we got inside.

Dismaland
Seagull Lady, Banksy, Dismaland

A few minutes later we’d passed through some pretend security and were standing in Dismaland. The exhibition is a mix of fairground attractions with a twist, large model exhibits, films and an indoor art gallery. Over 50 artists have provided works, with Banksy responsible for 11 of the exhibits, including the seagull model above.

Banksy describes Dismaland as a theme park unsuitable for children. My kids loved it, as I’m sure would most teens, but I’d think twice about taking younger children. You’ll spend half of your time explaining the irony behind the exhibits, the other half trying to avoid the liberal use of swearing around the site!

Dismaland
Horse meat carousel, Dismaland

The fairground attractions, which cost extra, included a carousel where a white suited figure is making lasagne from the horses, topple the anvil with a ping pong ball (and win the anvil) and a rotating caravan ride.

I loved the ‘Hook a duck from the muck’ stall. The prizes were inflated plastic bags with a piece of orange fabric in them, modelled to look like goldfish. Not that many people won them! As soon as someone got close to hooking a duck the unsmiling attendant would pick up a duck and throw it at the target, generally resulting in a large splash of water over the person. Or alternatively she’d grab the fishing rod and throw it on the floor.

Big Rig Jig, Dismaland
Big Rig Jig, Mike Ross, Dismaland

The staff, who had responded to an advert for film extras, played their roles perfectly. Unsmiling and disinterested, generally slouching in a corner or getting in the way of photos. I bought a souvenir programme and the attendant literally threw it, and the change at me. It was hard not to laugh.

There is no getting away from the Disney aspect. The staff wear ears which bear a strong resemblance to mouse ears. The entrance wristbands, logo and online advert are unmistakably modelled on Disney. How I’d love to be a fly on the wall in their lawyer’s office!

Dismaland
Outdoor cinema, Dismaland

There’s a cinema showing short films so we bagged some deckchairs and rested our feet. Perhaps we were just watching the wrong film but I found this part the weakest of the show. Wandering off after a few minutes we discovered a giant toilet roll sculpture and a killer whale jumping out of a toilet (the former by Michael Beitz, the latter a Banksy).

Dismaland
Dismaland

I loved the way the original lido had been incorporated into the exhibition. Although I am assuming that the crumbling stonework, uneven flooring and weeds weren’t added recently for effect!

The police riot van below was built for use in Northern Ireland but now stands in the middle of a lake adorned with a slide and fountain.

Dismaland
Police van, Banksy, Dismaland

We entered the burnt out castle and found a dead Cinderella falling out of her pumpkin carriage surrounded by paparazzi. This piece is probably one of the most controversial given the obvious similarities to the death of Princess Diana. The other exhibit to stir up emotions is that of the boat pond where visitors can control the crowded boats full of migrants. Bad taste? Certainly thought provoking.

Dismaland
Mini Gulf, Dismaland

We passed on the opportunity to play Mini Gulf but enjoyed checking out the variety of obstacles. There’s a huge sandcastle and windmill next to the children’s play area and pocket money loans shop. Not many takers for the 5000% interest rate!

Dismaland
Dismaland

There was a short queue of people waiting to take selfies at the selfie hole (oh the irony). I’d read a couple of reviews slating the queues inside Dismaland, all part of the experience I’m sure, but we were lucky and whilst a couple of exhibits had queues most of them didn’t. It actually felt relatively empty which was rather surprising given the long wait outside.

Dismaland
Selfie hole, Dismaland

The three large art galleries were excellent. We watched a Banksy offering, the grim reaper riding the dodgems to the soundtrack of the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive.

There are a couple of Damien Hirst pieces including a unicorn preserved in formaldehyde but one of my favourites was Promise by Caroline McCarthy. This consisted of plastic plant pots and ready meal packaging with garnishes cut into the cardboard to suggest freshness.

Promise, Caroline McCarthy, Dismaland
Promise, Caroline McCarthy, Dismaland

The galleries were a fascinating mix of sculptures, paintings and objects. One gallery was dominated by a mushroom cloud tree house. The Spanish artist Paco Pomet had inserted the Cookie Monster into a picture of war lords driving a jeep. Whilst Jessica Harrison had porcelain figurines with tattoos. I’d love to have such creative thoughts.

Readers of a certain age will remember Jimmy Cauty, one half of the group KLF, and the man who burnt a million dollars. His contribution to Dismaland is a huge sculpture which initially looks like a large model railway set. Look closer and you’ll find almost 3000 model police figures in a post-apocalyptic world. The strobe lighting and staff shouting ‘Move along, there’s nothing to see’ are incredibly atmospheric.

Dismaland
Dismaland

The exit sign was exactly as I’d expect of a Banksy exhibition. Dismaland delivered everything I’d hoped for and more. Given the number of people visiting Weston for the attraction I really hope it’s delivered a great boost to the late summer tourist trade too!  

More info:

  • Dismaland was only open until 27 September 2015 and has now closed.
Share this:

Donkeys and sand sculptures at Weston-super-Mare

Over the last few years we’ve started a family tradition of an August day trip to the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. I usually prefer quiet beaches and exploring rock pools, but I make an exception for Weston, and each year we have a fun day out.

We take the train as it’s a convenient and straightforward journey for us (trains run every half hour from Bristol). Walking from the railway station, the first impressions of the town are not particularly positive. It suffers from the blight of empty shops, grimy looking bars and down at heel takeaways that are found in town centres all over the country.

However, it’s only a 15 minute walk to the beach from the railway station. Before long you’re on the beach front, and you can understand why families flock here.

Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare
Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare

Grand Pier

The pier is the first place the kids want to visit when we arrive.  It was destroyed by fire in 2008, but rebuilt and opened again in 2010. I’d imagine some adults visiting without children would find this  place hell on earth but for most kids it’s the very opposite. It’s primarily a busy entertainment arcade with loud music, a variety of rides, food outlets and game machines.

Inside the arcade we enjoyed the crystal maze (a room full of mirrors to negotiate) and another maze where they had to climb through laser lights.  The 300m go-kart track looked great fun, but with a minimum age of 12 years the kids were too young to go on it. Instead we spent a happy half hour feeding 2p pieces into the pushing machines, and then a few unsuccessful attempts on the various grab and go machines.

Looking back down the Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare
Looking back down the Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare

For younger pre-school children, there aren’t that many rides that would be suitable but there is a soft play area, and also a small train that runs up and down the pier for 50p a ride.

Once the pier cravings were satisfied I managed to tempt them away with the promise of a donkey ride.

Donkey rides

Donkey rides on Weston beach are a popular and enduring tradition. The family running Weston donkeys have been operating on the beach since 1886. The donkeys are well looked after, and only work for around 7 months each year, with their holiday spent at local farms.

I was slightly worried my eldest would be too grown up for the donkeys, but she hopped on one of the taller donkeys without a second thought. Luckily they can take children up to the age of 14 years, so we could still get in a few more rides in future years.

weston9
Maisie – a Weston donkey

The ride isn’t long at all, perhaps a couple of hundred metres, but the kids both enjoyed it and made a fuss of the donkeys afterwards.

2013 sand sculpture festival

For details of the 2014 sand sculptures please see my post here.

This year, for a change, we decided to visit the sand sculpture festival, which features Hollywood stars. The sculptures are made from just sand and water, and then sprayed with a solution to help repel rain.

Pirates of the Caribbean at Weston sand sculpture festival
Pirates of the Caribbean at Weston sand sculpture festival

There was a good mix of films and actors portrayed. Children’s characters included ones from Pirates of the Caribbean, Despicable Me and Madagascar.

Super heroes at Weston sand sculpture festival
Super heroes at Weston sand sculpture festival

My generation had Jaws, Titanic and James Bond sculptures whilst some of the older stars were Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Marilyn Monroe.

Minions at Weston sand sculpture festival
Minions at Weston sand sculpture festival

The sculptures were very impressive. After we looked round there is an area where you can create your own sand sculpture. There are step by step instructions to follow but its not as easy as it looks!

Building sandcastles at Weston
Building sand sculptures at Weston

Finally, no visit to the seaside is complete without an ice cream. We opted for Tutto Gelataria on the sea front, this sells locally made ice cream with some interesting flavours (candy floss ice cream anyone?).

Before heading home we also picked up some sticks of sugary rock as souvenirs.  I don’t know why I do this as I always find them sweet and sickly, but I guess a seaside trip demands certain traditions!

Everything else

In the past we’ve played crazy-golf, but there wasn’t time this year. There’s also a water adventure play park, the museum, the Weston wheel (not quite the London Eye), a land train along the promenade and the aquarium. So, plenty to do on a day trip!

More info

  • The Grand Pier is open daily from 10am (except Christmas Day).  The closing time varies, but is usually early evening.
  • This years sand sculpture festival runs until 30th September 2013. It’s an annual event, so will run again with a different theme in future years.
  • Both the Grand Pier and Sand Sculpture festival are wheelchair and buggy accessible. However, inside the pier arcade area it was incredibly busy, and there’s not much space to manoeuvre around.

Costs

  • Entrance to the pier is £1 per person. Ride prices inside the arcade vary from £1 to £6, or you can buy a £15.00 wristband which allows access to all rides. Check height and age restrictions first as quite a few are only suitable for 8+ years. There are also loads of games for the kids to waste your money on. Whilst the prices are very reasonable (2p slot machines, 20p grab the toy machines) there are a lot of them so your money soon goes. Prices updated summer 2015.
  • Donkey rides cost £2 and last around 5 minutes (price updated summer 2015).
  • The sand sculpture festival costs £3.50 for adults, £2 for children or £10 for families. You can get a guide for £1 but all the information in it is also available on boards in the sculpture area anyway.
Share this: