St Davids Hotel and Spa with an alien interloper in the foreground
I feel like I’m endlessly telling people to go to Cardiff, but hear me out just one more time. I know I’m biased; I have a twelve year old Doctor Who fan and there is no better place on the planet for a Doctor Who fan than Cardiff Bay, but its becoming increasingly apparent to me that its a pretty awesome place for everyone else in the family too.
The Caribbean style funfair in the Bay
Take this last trip; half the family were wearing various Doctor Who fan clothing, the other half weren’t; half the family were racing towards the steel tower that graces the centre of the Bay, crying ‘Torchwood Tower’, the other was eying up various rides in the raucous funfair edging up to the steps of the Millennium Centre. I wasn’t eying up either very enthusiastically to be honest, my sights were firmly set on the rather splendid St Davids Hotel and Spa, which sailed majestically onwards from its prominent site on the edge of the Bay. The funfair group won and we spent a couple of hours racing each other around in zorbs and dodgem boats and trying on silly hats.
Torchwood Tower, site of a million cheesy photos
The Caribbean funfair is only for summer of course, but the rest of the attractions are there year round. I can testify, I’ve been here in winter squalls and on the hottest day of the year and its always been wonderful. The redevelopment of Cardiff Bay from the rundown Tiger Bay of Shirley Bassey fame, to the popular and impressive place it is now, is because of the Barrage. This massive construction finished in 1999, has effectively created a 500 acre freshwater lake, negating the effects of the tide, which for so long had prevented development in the Bay. You can take boat rides out into the harbour to look at the wildlife or for a cruise around the Barrage.
Speedboats track our short walk around the Bay toward the St Davids past the higgledy collection of restaurants, ‘This is where the Doctor had dinner with the Slythene’, ‘This is the entrance to Torchwood’ the children intone as we pass. The restaurants are buzzing, everyone is out enjoying the weather, a steel pan band adds to the atmosphere and conflicting smells of Thai curry and pasta swirl in the air.
The St Davids Hotel and Spa has the perfect location
The St Davids Hotel and Spa is a five star hotel located right at the edge of the bay, one side looks towards reeds and rushes the other gives you a fabulous view right over the Bay, you can point out the attractions, look for the lost Tardis, note the cranes on the horizon building the new office blocks round the back of the Welsh Assembly. I find the whole jumble of buildings and churches and towers very appealing.
A close up of the Red Docks Building and the Millenium Centre
This is most decidedly a child-friendly five star hotel. The staff from beginning to end are cheerful and friendly and an endless supply of fun packs and advice. Our room is all about the two balconies and the endless expanse of sky and sea. They have fitted two roller beds in for us, one child even has his own curtained off side room; its things like this that children love and remember. What the adults loved and will remember is the food. It was extremely good – in fact I can’t fault dinner at all, we had scallops and sea bass, the waiter Richard, was wonderful, the view over the water memorable and the children were stunned into submission by the sight of their puddings.
Scallops and chorizo for dinner
The next morning after an equally memorable breakfast, we set off for the main attraction – the Doctor Who Experience http://www.doctorwho.tv/events/doctor-who-experience/ I’ve come late to Doctor Who, I watched as a child, was terrified and did the usual sofa hiding, but I can’t say I was a fan. Having fans in the family has changed all that and I happily admit now to loving the Doctor Who Experience. Its changed in the six months since our last visit. Its endlessly changing, every new series brings new costumes and new ideas and every new doctor brings a completely new interactive experience.
Just slightly spooked by an interactive Davros
We begin by joining the end of a queue that weaves its way through a number of exhibits in what appears to be the foyer – the armor of a futuristic soldier, the resplendent robes of a Timelord and a dozen or so assorted artifacts. We are invited to follow a character known only to us as the Curator, who guides us into a room where a large screen displays our attempt to communicate with the Doctor himself. After a catastrophic event we enter an adventure in which we traverse time and space as a group of willing accomplices aiding the Doctor in dispensing with his latest menace. Both boys get to find life-saving crystals, which pleases them both enormously.
Close up with a Dalek
On resolving the quest through the highly detailed and realistic sets we find ourselves in an exhibition of sets, costumes, artifacts and aliens – cue more happy fans.
The author and a dog by Myles Austin
The World of Boats Museum http://www.worldofboatscardiff.com/plan-your-visit-original/ is tucked just behind the Experience and is full of colourful pirogues and a pirate boat in progress and is great fun, it also has a great little cafe and a picnic spot with a fabulous views across the bay.
A pirogue in the World of Boats
One of the delights of the Bay’s regeneration is the level of creative innovation that has been embraced, whilst retaining and enhancing both its history and its charm. Sculptures, from the whimsical to the memorial adorn the harbor edge. Clever additions like the cafe made from a shipping container echoes the the changes in the Bay itself.
The Millenium Arts Centre
We spend the rest of the afternoon very happily alternating between the Techniquest http://www.techniquest.org/ an interactive science exhibition and planetarium (get a ticket in the morning and then you can go in and out for the rest of the day) and the hotel’s spa, which was very child-friendly and very nice indeed.
So I’m sure we’ll be back. We haven’t yet tried the Doctor Who tour http://www.doctorwho.tv/events/doctor-who-experience/about/walking-tours/ haven’t visited the Red Dragon Centre, or the Millenium Arts, all of the hundreds of restaurants and bars clustered into Bay and I’m quite sure the Norwegian Church is a must see – we’ll be back.
An old blue box