We had spent a good 20 minutes figuring out the best way to get from London Bridge station to HMS Belfast by buggy (take the first turning down to Tooley St and go through the Hays Galleria entrance).
During this period, I’d tried to get my toddler excited about our trip.
‘We’re going on a very big boat, Jed.’
‘Yay, boat!’ Jed cheered.
Once we made it to the dock and I pointed out the vast ship, Jed’s face fell.
‘No,’ he said firmly. ‘Don’t want boat.’
Even as we wheeled along the gangway, Jed was insisting, ‘Don’t want to go on boat, Mummy!’
Even when he got to wear a captain’s hat, my babe was not a happy sailor.
Thankfully he livened up when we arrived at the control centre of the ship, the main reason for our visit.
We’d been invited to the press launch of the newly restored and interactive Operations Room.
Inside there are state-of-the-art audio and visual features to help visitors imagine what it was like operating the ship during World War 2 and the Korean War.
Jed loved having loads of knobs and buttons to push, and was especially taken with the touch screen games.
We explored the rest of the ship with a yeoman, the lovely Linda, as our guide.
What’s really special about being on board HMS Belfast is the sense of being inside living history. Linda said people compare it to stepping into the Tardis because once you enter the ship it seems to expand tenfold.
As we roamed the living quarters, Linda’s storytelling along with the eerily lifelike mannequins and amazing attention to detail really brought HMS Belfast to life. I got to lie on a prisoner’s bed and ‘witness’ surgeons operating in the sick bay.
The only room we didn’t have access to was the chapel. Linda said it’s locked to the public because it’s still in use by former servicemen. Describing a recent memorial service, our guide choked up. I was tearing up too.
No matter what your feelings are about war, it’s an emotional journey to a place where so many gave up their lives for what they believed to be the greater good.
HMS Belfast is a fascinating day out for families, although there are a couple of things to watch out for if you have younger ones.
You’ll spend a lot of time climbing up and down ladders (there are 9 decks), so it might be helpful to use a baby carrier instead of a buggy, or at least come with a second pair of hands. Flat, grippy shoes are a must.
Also my 5-year-old (at school at the time) would have loved the ship, but would have freaked out completely at the mannequins.
We spent a good 2 hours before Jed decided he was spooked by the figures (‘don’t want man!’) and so we left for lunch.
I was glad I’d had a chance to visit HMS Belfast with Jed since I’ll probably wait until Ezra’s older before taking him.
As we were leaving there was a convoy of kids arriving with overnight bags to spend the night on the ship.
Strange to imagine one day my boys will be big enough to have such an adventure!
HMS Belfast, a branch of the Imperial War Museum, is moored on the Thames between London Bridge and Tower Bridge by Morgans Lane, Tooley St, SE1 2JH. Tickets are £13.50 adults, under 16s free.
Visit the HMS Belfast web site for more info