We were very excited for our visit to Bristol’s number one attraction rated by Trip Advisor, Brunel’s SS Great Britain.
We explained to the girls before we left on our journey to Bristol, that they were going to visit a very old ship called Brunel’s SS Great Britain. As our eldest daughter was studying the Victorian era at school she was very excited and inquisitive about what life would have been like on a journey aboard the SS Great Britain.
The SS Great Britain is one of the most significant surviving ships from the Victorian Era. When it launched in 1843, it was the first iron steamer to cross the Atlantic, which it did in 1845, in the time of 14 days.
We were met by Laura who welcomed us to the SS Great Britain and were left to self-explore the ship. We picked up our own maps, paper guides and children’s guides from the entrance.
Great Western Dockyard:
As you enter the Great Western Dockyard, you get the first glimpse of the ship where its stern meets you. We walked around the side of the impressive ship and our girls thought they were on a pirate’s adventure.
The dockyard sets the scene with lots of mid-19th century props as it would have been at launch and was surrounded with crates, horses & carts and dockyard workers.
The exhibition takes you on a wonderful interactive journey, exploring the ship through sight, sound, smell and touch. As you walk down the stairs into the dry dock you see the huge structure of the ship.
The children thought it was so cool to be under the water, as this section is really cleverly designed, as through the glass ceiling you can see the water above giving the appearance of the ship floating in her dock.
It was fantastic to be able to get so close to the world’s first great ocean liner so we could see and touch what the hull of a ship was like as well as the huge propeller and rudder.
The hull was riddled with rust and holes and you start to appreciate the huge task it must have been to transport the ship from the Falklands and restoring her back in Bristol.
We could hear a whirring noise coming from a dehumidifier and feel the warm air being blown onto the ship, learning that to prevent the ship from further rusting, the air is kept at 20% humidity to preserve the iron of the hull.
The tour can be tailored to all ages. The girls were given their own mock passenger ticket called a nipper ticket which stimulated them to learn and explore collecting ink stamps from 4 different stamp stations in the Dockyard Museum.
In the Dockyard Museum the girls loved looking at lots of old objects and original artefacts from the ship, listening to videos and looking at pictures.
Their favourite activity was pretending to steer the ship. They liked sounding the horn, and the sound effects of people cheering and talking.
The staff were very friendly and invited the children to make rat masks as part of their activities for children.
There are many information boards and also simplified versions for children where they had to lift the picture flap with a short question and answer.
On Board the SS Great Britain
Leaving the dockyard museum section of the attraction you walk across the bridge to board the SS Great Britain.
We loved exploring the three decks of the ship starting with the weather deck which is the outdoor top deck, where the ships wheel is. The deck is a perfect recreation of how it would have looked in 1845, when the very first passengers went aboard at the start of their voyage to New York.
After exploring the deck we were looking forward to exploring he rest of the ship, and the girls decided to start the journey in style via the first class passenger entrance. Only passengers travelling first class were allowed to cross a white painted boundary line into an area behind the mainmast specially reserved for their use.
The way the ship has been restored is just amazing and felt so very authentic. Below deck the atmosphere was incredible and it really felt as if you were a passenger on board the SS Great Britain.
Starting at the Promenade Deck which had the lavish style & decoration for the first class passengers on board. As we explored the cabins located on either side of the Promenade Deck you could meet some of the passengers who would have travelled first class on the ship.
As you explore the ship and its cabins your experience is brought alive with sounds, smells and dummy models helping the girls imagine what it was like in Victorian Britain.
There were lots of activities for the girls to take part in and during our visit. There was a great story session in the dining room which was a fun and entertaining way for the girls to learn about what life would have been like on board.
The girls loved looking through each room on the ship and especially the cabins. They kept asking questions as we explored the luxurious first class cabins to the less luxurious second class cabins through to the really cramped and smelly third class passenger quarters. It was a good insight into what life was like for the different classes of passenger.
Steerage, also known as third class, is where most passengers lived during the voyage to Australia. It was the cheapest accommodation and located on the lower decks in the forward end of the ship.
There were some realistic smells too: toilet smells in loo, vomit in a stewardess’s cabin, pleasant spicy balms in the barber’s cabin, and manure in the livestock area where model horses snort very realistically.
In the kitchen area you had to keep an eye out for the pretend rats running past you.
We had a lot of giggles when the girls tried to open a toilet door and a recorded voice of a passenger tells you “It’s being occupied!”. If you keep opening the door the voice gets louder and angry which made the children laugh. There are also real working toilets for your use on the ship.
The engine has also been perfectly recreated and is a full scale model which we could see turning. You could also hear the sounds of stokers shovelling coal, and the smell of oil and coal from the engine room made the experience even more realistic.
It was only when we got back onto the main deck and were about to leave that we realised we missed out on the free audio guides – of which there are 3 choices – to hear a guide from a 1st class passenger, 2nd class passenger, marine engineer, or (for the kids) the ship’s cat!
Why I would recommend:
There were so many opportunities for the children to learn about the SS Great Britain through touch and play. There was an opportunity for them to dress up in Victorian clothes, steer using the ship’s wheel, sound the ship’s horn and explore the cabins on board the ship.
All of these interactive experiences helped to portray life on board for Victorian passengers and was a very realistic way for children to discover the true stories behind the ship that changed the world.
We had a wonderful time exploring Brunel’s SS Great Britain and one which I would recommend as a must visit attraction. It was a fun, educational, family friendly venue and a great day out.
Location and Pricing:
Your entry ticket allows you free return visits for a year. Entry for children aged 4 and under is free. Family tickets are available including ‘Family ticket’ (2 adults, with 2 or 3 children), ‘Grandparent family ticket’ (2 seniors, with 2 or 3 children) and ‘Mini family tickets’ (1 adult with 2 or 3 children). Tickets are available to buy on the door or online via the SS Great Britain website.
Great Western Dockyard, Gas Ferry Road, Bristol, BS1 6TY.
Monday to Sunday, 1000 to 1730* (last entry 1630)
Closed on 24 & 25 Dec, and second Mon in Jan.
The museum is set in a very picturesque area of the harbour side and there is plenty of car parking within a short walking distance to the attraction. The nearest parking is the Maritime Heritage Centre (2761 if you pay using Ringo).
We were guests of the SS Great Britain for the purpose of the review. All thoughts and opinions are our own.