Yesterday was a busy day! My son and I had an adventure, taking the StenaLine Superfast Ferry from Belfast to Cairnryan, on a daytrip which included entrance and unlimited rides at M&D's, a theme park just outside Glasgow.
We chose to take our car, which costs from £31 for an adult, including M&D's, or you can book a coach tour which starts at £28 per adult. There are benefits to both choices. With the coach you can relax and don't have to worry about directions, driving, or petrol costs. We chose to drive however as you can go at your own pace, stop off at services for snacks, or a quick peek at Ayr on the way past, plus you've your own privacy in your car. I still get car sick on buses, so driving was definitely the best option for us, plus I love driving places I've never been before, it all adds to the adventure!
So, I'll talk you through our trip, and you can see how it would work for your own trip.
Check in at the Belfast docks is before 7am, so it's a very early start. You'll need a print out of your booking etc. but we didn't need passports, or any ID, although it recommends you have them with you just in case. You are given a lane to wait in, then you drive into the boat in turn. Once you park up you can head up into the main part of the boat.
The 730am sailing is understandably quite quiet, but the whole ferry is open for business. There are multiple cafés and lounges, including the Taste restaurant where you can get hot breakfast and unlimited hot drink refills.
After a quick breakfast, we explored the rest of the boat. There's a cinema, a children's play area and even a spa on the top deck. You can access the jacuzzi and sauna for £10, or book massages or pedicures.
We settled in the Pod lounge. It's nearest the cinema, has computer access and XBox Kinnect for the kids. The whole boat has free wifi, which actually works! Plus there are charging sockets absolutely everywhere. If you're a frequent traveller you'll know the struggle of finding an ipad or iPhone charging plug at an airport, no such struggle on the Stenaline.
We settled down in the Pod lounge and Michael played Minecraft and popped in and out of the cinema. The Superfast crossing takes slightly over two hours, and by 10am we were off the boat and hitting the road in Scotland.
The road to M&D's is pretty straightforward. You follow the A77 for about an hour and 45 minutes, so we were able to do the drive easily without a Sat Nav, just with printed directions. The A77 turns into the M77 near Glasgow, then you simply turn off onto the road to the A8 and from there you'll see signs for 'Scotland's Themepark'. I love long distance driving, especially places I haven't been, so I loved the drive. The first half of the drive is rural and absolutely beautiful, but the road is excellent quality, no bumpy gravel tracks! We drove off the boat around 10am and were parking up at M&D's at 12 noon exactly. The carpark is close to the entrance and completely free.
M&D's is like Barry's here in Northern Ireland. It's free to walk into and walk around. You could dander in and get food or play the fete games whenever you like. The rides cost a certain number of points, and locals can buy cards or wrist bands for a certain amount of rides. As part of the StenaLine day trip, whether by car or coach, you get an UNLIMITED ride wristband, so you can ride all the rides for free and as often as you can fit into the four hours or so you have there. Your wristband has a barcode which you simply scan to enter each ride.
We decided to start with the biggest, tallest ride, the Ferris wheel. I thought it would be a relaxing, pleasant start to the day. It was terrifying! It's really, very high and my legs went like jelly! It's a great place to start though as you can nosy at the park from above and plan where you'll go next.
The park at just after noon was fairly quiet. We headed next to the kiddie ride section. There are about ten rides for ages 5-12 which my son just loved. At that time of day we didn't have to queue for more than one turn of the ride, walking straight onto most of them. All rides are measured by height, and some you will have to accompany your child on. Again because rides are unlimited and free, it isn't much of a problem.
We were fairly hungry after our long drive, so it was time to find some food. The entire M&D's park is compact. It's not like when you visit an American theme park and spend the day trekking about ten miles between spaced our rides. The rides are a short distance apart, and there are food stalls scattered throughout the park. You can get hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and candy floss walking around the park, and there are plenty of picnic tables to sit and enjoy them, or indeed your own picnic.
We hadn't brought food, so we strolled back to the entrance plaza where there was a food hall with plenty of seating.
Here there was a sit down, proper family restaurant, or quicker, decently priced fast food places for pizza, chicken or Angus beef burgers. We grabbed a popcorn chicken kids meal for under a fiver and shared it and that was plenty!
There's also a shop called Sweet Explosion, where you can buy tiny chocolates that look like cupcakes, as well as mallow pizzas and traditional sticks of rock as presents and souvenirs, all a reasonable prices.
Heading back into the park, we ventured to some of the more grown up rides. Michael unfortunately was a tiny bit too short to ride most of them, but if you are taking teenagers there are a good half dozen huge roller coasters and thrill rides to choose from. I was secretly quite glad I only had to go on the children's rides. The chairaplanes were excitement enough for me! They were definitely my son's favourite, we went on them three times. Even as the park because busier from 2pm on, none of the queues were for longer than ten minutes.
There is also a free high diving pirate act show on at various points through the day. Check the times to catch a show, near the chairaplanes.
There are two long flume type rides, which have these giant walk in dryers to dry yourself off afterwards!
Weatherwise we got really lucky, it only rained for about two minutes at one point, and the sun came out beautifully about 3pm. If you do get caught in the rain, there are stalls selling ponchos, so you don't really have to stop the fun if the weather doesn't play ball.
Amazonia is a rainforest attraction which costs extra, but we were so busy with the rides included, we didn't have time to visit it. You also get a free game of pirate golf included in your entrance price, and there is indoor bowling too should your day turn out too wet.
Your homeward bound sailing is at 730pm, which means check in is at latest 7pm. We knew from the earlier journey it took about two hours, so we left M&D's around 430pm so we could stop off at services for food, and have a relaxing return trip. The four and a half hours at the park is plenty. We got to ride everything we wanted to, didn't feel rushed, and were ready to hit the road when time was up.
Again the journey is pretty straightforward. Get on the M77 which turns into the A77 and stay on it for two hours and you can't go wrong. If you left M&D's about 3pm, you could easily spend an hour in Ayr, or stop off at any of the picturesque villages along the way.
We made Cairnryan in good time, and were tired out on the slightly busier 730pm return sailing. We explored the ship a bit more, taking in the shop. It's a well stocked, airport type shop, with lots of bargains. I bought a very necessary, large Carebear.
Even with the return ferry being busier, there were still plenty of places to sit and relax, and a lot of choice of food and drink, from whole meals, to cafe snacks, or choices from the bar.
The StenaLine docked in Belfast at 945pm, and we drove off tired but super happy. Thank you so much Steanline, M&D's and Bronagh for sending us on the fantastic daytrip. If you have any questions about the trip, and taking it yourself this summer, give me a shout on Twitter @rudedoodle. The trip runs daily from 1st July throughout the summer, both coach and car service. It's definitely worth the trip, and it's a bargain price for a family day out.
Looking forward to our next summer 2015 adventure! This one will be hard to beat!