Bank Holiday Monday saw us embark on a one-night mini-break in Southampton. Perhaps a bit of a random choice but a few months ago hubby spotted some great deals on the Premier Inn website, meaning we were able to get a room for the three of us for just £25. Good Friday had been our fifth wedding anniversary and we both had this week booked off work so it felt like an ideal time for a night away, even if it was with the toddler in tow!
We chose Southampton as it’s a relatively easy drive for us – just an hour-and-a-half and Little Miss slept most of the way. There are also plenty of family-friendly attractions nearby – not least the famous Peppa Pig World at Paultons Park – and the city also has the big West Quay Shopping Centre, with a huge flagship John Lewis store that I’d been wanting to check out for ages!
We stayed at Premier Inn West Quay, which as the name suggests, is perfectly situated next to the shopping centre – dangerously close some might say! It opened in the summer of 2011 so everything still felt very fresh and new. In fact it felt much more like a proper hotel than your average Premier Inn. That said, I’ve never stayed in a bad one. You generally know what you’re going to get, that the standard will be decent and everything clean and functional. But this one really was a cut above the rest.
A warm welcome…
The staff on reception were very friendly and welcoming. Even though we arrived a little early we were allowed up to our room straight away. This had a comfy double bed and a smaller, lower single which given a few months would have been fine for Little Miss but we brought her travel cot this time as she’s yet to make the transition to a ‘big girl’s bed’. That said, she did still love pretending the bed was hers!
Hubby declared the posh rainforest-style shower the best he’d ever had! It was fab but if you’re not planning on getting your hair wet you definitely need a shower cap – there’s no way of adjusting it to save your locks from the full force of its impressive flow! I had a bath in the evening and saved the shower for the morning, when it was great to wake up with.
Of course a new hotel room is always going to provide an endless source of amusement for a busy toddler. Thankfully there wasn’t much she could damage or hurt herself on but we did have to grab the kettle and tea-making kit as soon as we got in the room and the toilet tissue dispenser proved highly fascinating (she thought it was a soap dispenser and kept pretending to wash her hands under it!). We also had to stop her climbing in the drawers!
A toddler-related ’emergency’…
Outside of the room, Little Miss got a taste for pressing the lift button, which initially was fine. What we didn’t notice, until it was too late, was how low down the emergency alarm button inside the lift was! Naturally Little Miss found it and set it off! Luckily we were the only ones around and the reception staff were quickly able to turn it off before anyone tried to rescue us! And we didn’t get told off either. In fact despite her general cheekiness and the lift incident, Little Miss proved a very popular guest with the hotel staff, who always waved and said hello to her.
Our first port of call in Southampton (excuse the sailing pun!) was, of course, a visit to John Lewis, where we had a lovely relaxed lunch in the cafe – cunningly called the Place to Eat! Here we found plenty of choice – hot and cold meals, delicious sarnies and baguettes, seriously tempting cakes, a good children’s choice and a decent cup of tea or coffee – and views out across Southampton Water where a big cruise ship was docked. It was perhaps a little bit pricier than usual but worth it we thought. Little Miss loved picking things for her children’s meal bag (and we saved money by sharing some of these as it was much more than she’d usually have), which also came with crayons, pictures to colour in, a finger puppet to make and stickers.
Afterwards we had a quick look around the baby and children’s department, which had some lovely things, but unfortunately this quickly descended into toddler mayhem so I, somewhat reluctantly, agreed to leave the shopping centre! My days of leisurely browsing are apparently long gone! But if the toddler had been asleep there was loads to look at – and that was only in John Lewis. There are also plenty of other shops and a huge Ikea across the road. Alas, I tore myself away and we headed out for a stroll through the older part of the city.
There’s plenty of history to see here – it’s not called Old Town for nothing! And much of it is completely free as you walk past. If you have more time, there are some self-guided walks you can do for which you can download the following maps – Old Town Walk, Titanic Trail and QE2 Mile. We passed through the Bargate, the medieval walled town’s grand entrance, and also stumbled across the Titanic Crew Memorial. I hadn’t realised that the doomed ship had set sail from here in April 1912. Since the anniversary of its sinking had only recently passed there were fresh floral tributes here, one of which was to someone’s grandad who had worked on the liner.
We then headed down to the waterside, where the Red Funnel Isle of Wight ferries dock. These hold happy childhood memories for me as we had many family holidays there when I was growing up. We all enjoyed watching the boats coming in and out for a while. Then we found a handy little playground in Mayflower Park (named after the historic sailing from Southampton to America by the Pilgrim Fathers in 1620). It was ship-themed, of course, and Little Miss had great fun letting off a bit of steam here.
Back at the hotel we decided to eat in the attached restaurant, called Thyme. The menu offered a wide range of freshly cooked meals with something for everyone – a range of starters, gourmet burgers and steaks, pizza, pasta, salads. Prices were reasonable and if you’re happy to stick to a more restricted menu there’s also a meal deal offer of a three-course dinner and drink plus all-you-can-eat Premier Breakfast the next day for £22. The children’s menu offered an equally good choice that should suit even the fussiest of little eaters and a three-course meal was a bargain £5.25 (for children aged 12 and under).
We arrived at 5.30pm, not realising it didn’t open until 6pm. No bother, we thought, we’ll just have a drink in the bar area. Little Miss, however, was on top form. Thankfully she wasn’t too distressed by the delay but by 5.50pm had taken to loudly shouting ‘highchair’ every few minutes, just in case the staff weren’t aware we were waiting!
Once she was safely sat in the eagerly anticipated highchair Little Miss continued to excitedly shout ‘lady got highchair’ every few minutes and loudly point out every ‘lady’ or ‘man’ who happened to walk past. When offered a table fairly near to ours, one man eating on his own opted for the peace and quiet of the opposite side of the restaurant!
We all thoroughly enjoyed our food – and I can be quite a picky customer! Everything was very tasty and beautifully presented. Hubby and I shared a garlic flatbread between us as a starter, which was more than enough, then I had freshly hand-battered fish and chips with garden peas and chunky chips. The fish was lovely and the batter very tasty and light.
Little Miss had a freshly-baked dough stick served with garlic and parsley dip for her starter, which went down very well – yes we all went for garlic! She followed up with hand-battered fish goujons, which were essentially the same as my meal just smaller, served with her favourite baked beans and a mini garlic flatbread – there was a good of choice of side dishes/accompaniments and much more food than she could eat.
Hubby went somewhat off-piste and had the rather epic Smoky Full House Hot Dog. We were both so full we didn’t need pudding, though Little Miss saved room for her Yummy Organic Yoghurt. We paid just over £27 for all our food, excluding drinks.
A big breakfast…
After a decent night’s sleep – spoilt only by Little Miss snuffling around her cot on and off from 5am onwards but we can’t blame the Premier Inn for that – we returned to Thyme for our breakfast. Hubby had the full Premier Inn Breakfast (£8.75) which means you can pretty much eat as much as you like of everything on offer, including the bacon and eggs. I had the Continental Breakfast (£6.25), which included cereals, fresh fruits, toast, crumpets and plenty of yummy baked goods. Both options also included unlimited Costa Coffee and Twinnings Tea and kids eat free when accompanied by a paying adult. It was more than enough to fuel us until lunch. The friendly staff even encouraged you to take a few bits, like yoghurts and muffins, for later if you wanted!
With breakfast done we checked out and headed off for the day… but that’s a whole new blog post. We had a lovely stay in Southampton and we’ll definitely be keeping our eyes open for any similar deals at Premier Inn West Quay in the future. Maybe next time we’d stay another night or two. It makes a great base from which to visit some of the many family-friendly attractions nearby. Or *she says wistfully* maybe one day I’ll get a proper look around the shops!
Parking for the Premier Inn is in the main West Quay car park next to the hotel, which was a bargain £5 for our overnight stay (you need to get your ticket stamped by the Premier Inn staff to get this deal). There is a small pick-up/drop-off area outside the hotel where you can leave your car for half hour while you get yourselves sorted.
Family-friendly attractions in and around Southampton…
Beaulieu National Motor Museum, House and Gardens
Or you could even hop over to the Isle of Wight, either on the Red Funnel car ferry or the high-speed Red Jet passenger service.
I’m already thinking about planning our next trip!