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HMS Belfast; Museum, exhibit... and a place to sleep?!
HMS Belfast (London)
Member Name: alfiepeaches
HMS Belfast (London)
Date: 01/08/12, updated on 01/08/12 (134 review reads)
Advantages: cheap, fun, informative, great place to stay for school trips!
Disadvantages: can be boring, bit naff,
I have visited the HMS Belfast twice, the first time was for a couple of hours as part of a London school art trip the second time was for another school trip for the start of my art foundation course on which we actually stayed on the boat for three nights (I didn't know this was possible either!) so hopefully my review will offer a different perspective from the usual public experience.
The ship is an original WWII ship that is now anchored on the River Thames just 2 minutes away from Tower Bridge. Admission was free for me as the first time I was under 16 and the second time it was a paid school trip, however I have heard they are quite cheap for London, costing only about £5. To access the boat you have to walk a 2minute bridge which was quite tiring the amount of times we had to board it when we stayed! The boat isn't disabled accessed unfortunately as some of the halls are quite thin and the stairs are more like ladders.
There are lots of places to explore on the ship, you can go below or climb up two stories. There are rooms full of life like mannequins playing the roles of what people would have been doing on the ship during war time for example there is a kitchen, a sick room, a living quarters and more. There is also a room that has all the electronics part that has lots of lights and noises everywhere so seem as if you actually on the ship during WWII, I personally found this to be a little naff and cheap however talking to some of the staff the ship has a very small budget so can't afford to jazz it up, at the same though it adds to the creepy feel of the ship. Having said this it is still a great experience for people interested in history and ships as it is very informative and for people like me who found it a little boring, it is fun to take silly pictures with the mannequins. There are seats dotted around one side where tired parents can sit and leave their kids to explore too! The boat is very cold mostly, even on hot days it's still pretty cool as it is on the river and inside doesn't really have a heating system so it needs to be treated as an outdoor activity!
There is a small presentation available at times, mainly for school trips I think, where you sit in a room and watch a small video and someone tells you about life on the ship, the general story and gets some props out. These include two different jackets, thermal socks, a hat and one of the large canons. The presentation is very short and simple but still interesting (and that's coming from me who isn't interested in warships!) and usually amusing as the person doing the presentation will get people to dress up the clothes to see how heavy it is. You also get the chance to swing up into a hammock which you need upper body strength for! You have the choice of looking round the rest of the ship being told more facts aswell as being able to look in the big canon/gun part where they would have been loaded, aimed and fired. I think one of them actually still works and is let off for extremely rare occasions like the Ships anniversary (shows how much I paid attention...) but it was very interesting as the staff man let us get into places that the public are not usually allowed.
There is a very small café on board that offers some basic food and drink at typical London prices, when we stayed on board we had breakfast free and a small packed lunch for the day. None of us were really impressed with the food we were given as it was fairly cheap, the breakfast was especially tasteless but as it was free for people staying overnight I can't complain too much. It would have been okay for younger kids though, as it is usually younger children who have overnight school stays.
My favourite part of the ship is the Captians Room! In here you get a great view of the river and get to sit in the captions seat, great cheesy tourist picture moment. You can play around with the wheels and some of the buttons and pretend you are on the phone etc. (Just think of the episode of Outnumbered when they visit the HMS!) Although you have to be careful of some of the switches as I got told off once for flicking switches as many of them are still in use and actually control lights and things on the ship, although to be honest if they don't want people messing with these they should state so or cover them! Me and my friend were luckily enough to be in the room when two of the people who kept an eye on everything walked by and went into a little compartment and produced captain hats, coats and binoculars for us to play around with and gave new cheesy photos opportunities. This was fun as the coats swamped us because we were so small, the staff were friendly and told us more about the ship too and took photos of us together.
So onto my actual stay on the ship, which might be interesting for you as it is only on offer to schools or guides/scouts (if not, feel free to skip!). There is one person who stays on the ship at all times to look after the people staying and lock them in at night, at the time we stayed was early September and we were the only class on there so there was 8 pupils and 2 teachers (a very small art foundation course!). The part we stayed in is down below and was made up of two large rooms, usually one side for boys and one side for girls however as there was only one boy in our time group it was fair for him stay with all us girls for company! He did use the other rooms shower and toilet though haha. So each room has a small toilet room that was made of two cubicle style toilets and 2 showers, the toilets reminded me off school school toilets and I really would have hated using them if there had been more of staying on the boat. However I'm sure this would have been okay for younger children (I was 18 at the time so I like privacy!). The showers were fine, not overly tiny and easy to use. There is just one big button to press and then the water runs at a decent pressure for about 3minutes before it needs to be pressed again. It takes about a minute to warm up as it was FREEZING at first though. There is also a small compartment joined to the large room for the teachers to stay with their own bathroom.
The room looks pretty cold and very uninviting, almost a bit prison like actually, as it is supposed to remind you of how the men on board would have had to sleep. It has many of the original bedding that men in the WW2 would have slept on, fold out metal bunk beds with a thin hard plastic coated mattress on top with a horrible plastic pillow. The only windows were two small circles which could be opened but not large enough for anyone to climb out of. You have to bring your sleeping bag to stay overnight and I definitely suggest a pillow as the one offered is terrible. We all had a top bunk each as the bottom ones were so low to the floor and we were already so afraid it would be cold and it was difficult to sit on the bottom without crouching over.
When it was time for bed (for us 18years olds after a night at the pub hehe) was about half 11, the room is very dark when the lights get turned off but there are still emergency lights around the room that stay on all night. For me this is was very annoying as it was too light but it was a safety requirement and would probably be needed for younger people staying on the boat as I imagine it would probably be quite scary for them. The nights sleep was actually really, really hot, I'd hate to imagine what it would be like if the room was full and the middle of summer. The next night we opened one of the small windows and it made a slight difference, the two people closest the window were really cold and the rest of us slept a little better, although that might just because of the all walking we did! The room had about two small mirrors just about the right height for me (but luckily little kids don't need to see themselves to apply their makeup!) and a few plugs dotted around for hairdryers/ straightners. I think there was also a tv and vhs player but we didn't know about this so hadn't bought a video to play, but this would be a great idea for younger kids if they have trouble sleeping.
As scary as the staying on the ship sounds, we felt very safe as we were locked in every night and no one is allowed on at this time anyway, plus it's warship so it's pretty durable and can take any attacks... not there would be any haha. I wouldn't want to stay on the ship again as it was very uncomfortable plus I'm a 19 year old girl, it's not my idea of heaven, however not everyone can say they stayed on an original WWII ship can they? As much as I didn't particulary like it, it did bring our small group close which was the idea of it. I think it's a great opportunity for school trips as it's something different and also a lot cheaper than most hotels/hostels around London too plus you get breakfast and lunch included. Breakfast was bland and simple but there was quite a lot offered in the packed lunches and because we were such a small group we all ended up with two lunches each! Which we ended up passing onto some homeless people instead of eating or throwing away.
Overall I would recommend visiting the HMS Belfast as it is a cheap and interesting 'museum' type activity that offers something different to the usual history museums, some of it is quite boring but even after staying on it for four days we did not get to see the entire ship so I'm sure there's even more to explore. Another plus is that the boat doesn't move so no worry of sea sickness. I would recommend staying overnight on the ship to groups of children that are old enough to not get scared staying there (as it is a little scary!) and not in huge groups as there isn't many toilet/shower facilities available. We stayed on the boat as a 'team building' activity for everyone to get to know each other which really worked so I suggest it as a near the start of school trip too!
Wow this is the longest review I've ever written, hope I haven't bored to many of you who read it!
Summary: A great experience, especially for small kids and history lovers
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