This cracking day out will take you on the water with Mersey Ferries, under water at the U-boat Story and far above the water at Spaceport.
Also for the duration of 2016, you’ll get the pleasure of boarding Mersey ferry “Snowdrop,” currently painted as a dazzle ferry and the only operating dazzle ferry in the country.
To get the most out of your day, start off in the morning at Spaceport, situated at the Seacombe ferry terminal – it’s free to park here and you can either head straight into the Spaceport museum or start out on the ferry journey and finish at Spaceport later in the afternoon. I chose to do the latter, but either way, you can buy your tickets at Spaceport reception. The combined saver ticket for the Mersey Ferries Explorer cruise with Spaceport costs £38 for a family ticket, which includes 2 adults and 3 children and free entry to the U-boat Story, situated at the Woodside ferry terminal. The cruise is a 50 minute round trip, but stops in 3 locations so you can hop on and hop off to visit other attractions.
The explorer cruise leaves Seacombe at 20 past the hour (starting at 10.20am) so make sure you’re at the entrance to the ferry terminal 10 minutes before, so you can get in line to board and watch the dazzle ferry approach. Check online to see if the dazzle ferry is operating on the day you intend to visit, as it isn’t in operation every day and sometimes operates other Mersey routes instead.
The First World War Centenary Art Commissions together with Tate Liverpool and Liverpool Biennial commissioned pop artist Sir Peter Blake to ‘dazzle’ the Mersey ferry “Snowdrop”. The art of dazzle camouflage was used during World War I and involved re-painting a ship in contrasting abstract patterns and colours. This made it more difficult to target a ship by breaking up her form and making it harder to see which direction she was heading in. The technique was intended to confuse, rather than conceal, and so Blake responded to this experimental wartime practice of dazzle painting to turn “Snowdrop” into a unique moving artwork, called Everybody Razzle Dazzle.
On board there’s information panels placed around the decks providing information about the dazzle commission, Sir Peter Blake, the story of how Mersey ferries were involved in WWI and the history of dazzle painting.
It takes just 10 minutes for the ferry to reach Woodside passing the hulking mass of the Queensway Road tunnel ventilation shaft. On reaching Woodside, alight to visit the U-boat Story. Entrance is free with any explorer cruise ticket, so don’t misplace your tickets. You’ll need them to get back on the ferry too.
The U-boat Story is set on board the German U-boat submarine U-534, and tells the story of its sinking, discovery and recovery and how it came to be situated on the River Mersey in 2008.
The U-534 has been broken up into 4 pieces to best display all areas, joined by wooden decking to make it a fully accessible attraction. The majority of the U-boat Story is outside but there is a covered area on entering the ‘Story’ which houses interactive displays to engage children, including how to dive a U-boat, listen to a hydrophone and use a periscope.
You can watch a film about the discovery and recovery of the U-boat, read people’s stories and view artifacts illustrating on-board life; all of which aim to give you a taste of what life was like aboard a World War II sub.
Once outside on deck you can peer into different sections of the U-534 which have been left exactly as they were when recovered with 48 years of sea water damage.
You can also see the hole that ultimately sunk the U-534 and kids will no doubt clamber over the torpedo display on deck.
You can easily get round the U-boat Story in an hour, so that you’ll be ready to re-board Snowdrop when she returns an hour later.
The dazzle ferry now chugs across the Mersey to view the Liverpool skyline up close, with commentary about all the main landmarks visible such as the Anglican Cathedral, Albert Dock and the recently revived waterfront linking Albert Dock to the Three Graces: The Royal Liver building, the Cunard Building and the Port of Liverpool Building.
The ferry docks at Liverpool’s Pier Head Terminal 20 minutes after leaving Woodside where if you have time and want to get off, there are a whole host of attractions you can check out. My recommendation is to head to the Museum of Liverpool which is free to enter.
On the day I went on the dazzle ferry, the 2nd July 2016, I was lucky enough to see the Queen Elizabeth cruise liner which was in port for the day and offering special on board tours to the public for just £10. I only wish I had known about this in advance as I would have jumped at the chance to go on board a cruise liner. The dazzle ferry paraded up and down her length several times while the commentary told us all about her.
20 minutes after leaving Pier Head, the dazzle ferry brings you back to Seacombe and to the final attraction of the day: Spaceport – designed to take you on a journey through space and learn about Planet Earth and beyond.
The ground floor galleries tell you all about the different planets in the solar system, probes that have been sent into space, and the Liverpool Observatory, featuring numerous interactive exhibits and quizzes. I was rather taken with the set of scales which allow you to explore how much you would weigh on different planets – I couldn’t remember the ins and outs of this from my school days. In fact, I confess there was lots I didn’t remember from 20-25 years ago and it was fun finding out such things again.
You must take part in the very cool ‘hit the buzzer’ game which you can play with up to 4 people where you have 10 seconds to answer each question from a multiple choice and it tallies up your scores at the end. There were three of us in my party and I ashamedly came last! However, it was equally as informative as it was fun which is kinda the point, and Spaceport achieves this in droves!
Upstairs the exhibits become more ‘hands on’ and game heavy, exploring the influence of science in space. Kids could play in this area for hours, and if you can manage to only let them on the Space ride simulator once, I’d be amazed!
However, probably the best feature of Spaceport and my favourite part was the 25 minute show in the 360 degree dome theatre. Playing on the day I went was a show called Astronaut, exploring everything you need to know about becoming an astronaut; what they have to do, how they survive up in Space and how they prepare for coming home. It was thoroughly enjoyable and although there were no children in my party, I can vouch that all children watching the show were quiet for the entire time and fully engrossed in the experience. Spaceport change the shows on a regular basis, so if you need to know in advance what they’ll be showing, just give them a call – staff were incredibly helpful and informative and will happily discuss anything with you if you have any questions.
There are refreshments available at all stops and drinks and snacks are served on board the dazzle ferry too.
I hope you enjoy your day out on the River Mersey. It is certainly excellent value for money: I hope you agree.
Do you have any favourite activities or attractions along the River Mersey, either on the Liverpool or Wirral side to add to these?
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