I’m writing again about my time in Europe (I previously wrote a post with a few European travel tips, and I also wrote a post about geeky UK travel on Geek & Sundry). I’ve put a couple of my pictures here on the blog, but you can see LOADS more photos from my European adventure on my Instagram. The hashtag is #KenInEurope.
While I got to see a TON of amazing bits of European history, architecture, and culture, I made sure to get a solid dose of geekery into my travels. One of the places I had to be SURE to hit was the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, Wales. Honestly, you guys, I was so excited to take part in the Experience, actually setting foot into the building bordered on emotional for me–though that could have just been a result of the exhaustion/jetlag and gnarly blisters that were forming on my feet. Either way, it was so fantastic when I saw the giant building looming overhead.
I had bought my tickets ahead of time (which I recommend you do, though they have several tours leaving throughout the day, I’d hate to travel all the way to Wales only to fine they’re sold out. Plus, it’s 16 pounds at the door versus 14 pounds ahead of time). I backpacked my way through Europe, so I was thrilled to find that they let me in and through the experience with my backpack (which is good–I would have had literally nowhere else to put it had it been against the rules). All in all, the experience was magical and highly timey-wimey. So what can you expect when you immerse yourself in the Experience?
You will assume you can walk to the Experience from the train station, and soon realize you cannot–at least, it would be a walk that is WAY longer than you’re okay with.
If you’ve got yourself a rental car or you’re cool with taking a taxi everywhere, you’re set. However, if you’re relying on Uber, don’t. They don’t have it yet. If you’re thinking you’ll walk from the train station (we traveled to Cardiff via train from London), you also probably shouldn’t do that either. It’s a bit of a hike, and if it’s raining, the rain will likely be intense.
You will discover they have a bus that runs from the train station to the Experience–the Number 6 bus. You will scrounge through your pockets to find 1 pound 80 because the bus stop sign says it takes exact change only.
And no, they don’t take credit cards.
Then, you will notice a sign that says to flag the driver down if you wish to board the bus. You will think this is meant for those wishing to board the bus in between stops, and that obviously the bus will stop at its designated stops. You will be wrong.
Seriously, FLAG THE DRIVER DOWN. Turns out that, though you are standing at the bus stop, the bus doesn’t automatically stop at its designated stops. It only stops if there are people signaling that they’d like to get on the bus. Make sure you signal him so he has enough time to see you, register you need the bus, and safely stop at the bus stop.
Once aboard the bus, you’ll see that the bus has one of those “pull to stop the bus” ropes. In your experience, those are for emergency stops only, so you don’t pull it. Mercifully, others on the bus know better and will pull the cord at your desired stop.
It makes sense now. If the bus wasn’t stopping at bus stops without a future passenger waving the bus down, why would he stop without a current passenger letting him know they wanted to get off the bus? When you’ve reached your stop (or really, a bit before arriving at your stop), pull the cord.
As you’re nearing the Experience, you’ll notice that you pass the BBC Cymru|Wales building. You will wonder what the hell “Cymru” means.
First of all, Cymru is Wales in Welsh. Though Wales is an English speaking country, they are working hard to preserve the Welsh language as it came very close to becoming extinct. So, in addition to teaching Welsh in schools there, just about every sign you see in Wales has Welsh and English printed on it. #TheMoreYouKnow Also, I don’t know if you can tour the BBC office. I don’t even know if there’s anything to see in there. I just noticed it as we passed and was like, “Oh, hey look at that.” I was too nervous to explore for too long after our run at the Experience since we took the last Experience of the day. I wasn’t sure how long the bus would run to that area after the Experience closed, and I didn’t want to risk missing my train back to London.
The lobby of the Experience will literally take your breath away.
Okay, let me back track a bit. The lobby is by far not the most outstanding part of the experience. Really, the lobby is just a lobby, it’s just that the lobby contains loads of authentic Whovian props. Being that close to a TARDIS, a smiler, Daleks, Handles, and other authentic props will make you simultaneously want to squeal and cry a little.
The lobby–where they have a waiting area and a small cafe–is where you’ll find the big guns like a TARDIS, Daleks, and the Smiler. But when you’re ready to queue up for the Experience, they make you wait in a line prior to letting in, and that room is also filled with a variety of props like the Time Lord costumes, Handles, and the Time Lord Hypercubes.
You won’t be able to take pictures in the Experience, and they’ll ask you to keep the Experience itself a secret.
They want you to keep the adventure under your hat so everyone comes in to the Experience and it’s a new adventure for them. So I’m not going to tell you what I experienced specifically. Suffice it to say, you go on an interactive adventure with the Doctor. I don’t know how many times they make a new adventure, but I’m guessing at least one for every new Doctor, as mine was with Twelve.
You’ll quickly realize the Experience is designed to delight children. However, you’ll still have a blast, and feel a bit emotional that you’re actually in Cardiff, Wales, at THE Doctor Who Experience.
Yeah, the adventure is fully for kids, but it’s still loads of fun. Cheesy? Maybe, but it’s such a unique experience and I was so happy to simply be there, that everything delighted me to pieces. There’s even a part where we got to “drive” the TARDIS, and the Doctor instructed us to allow “small humans” to be in the front (so: Kendall, move back so the kids can have a turn). Mercifully, there were more TARDIS controls than children in my group, so I got to help drive. #TimeLordWin
Despite enjoying the adventure, you will be a bit disappointed that Peter Capaldi didn’t leap out at some point to surprise your group.
I did NOT miss a bit, Doctor. You just weren’t physically there. And yes, I know it wasn’t a realistic thing to hope for, especially since I don’t think they’ll be filming new episodes of Who for quite a while, but how awesome would that have been?!? But hey, maybe he’ll surprise your group when you go…
Despite the campy fun of the Experience, you’ll think the Doctor Who Exhibit after the experience is just THE BEST
Once you leave the interactive experience, you’ll enter the “museum” where they store costumes and props from Who over the years. They had awesome stuff like the actual Moment that the Doctor used in the 50th special to end the Time War, they had the War Doctor’s actual TARDIS, the interior of the One’s TARDIS as well as Nine and Ten’s TARDIS, they had an exhibit (that I didn’t get a picture of) showing the evolution of Cybermen on Who, and various costumes actually worn by characters. It was just brilliant.
You’ll soon realize that though there are a couple of TARDIS interiors to explore, you can’t enter any of the phone boxes. You’ll assume there are two reasons for this.
The first reason being that the TARDISes are just props, and it could be slightly devastating for fans to enter a TARDIS and realize it’s just a small, dark box. I mean, can you imagine sending this crazed fan into a fake TARDIS? That’s the smile of a chick hardcore fangirling over all the Who stuff around her, tired from walking with her dang backpack, and feet aching from the blisters she got from her stupid (but oh-so adorable) boots. She looks unstable enough that a disappointment like a fake TARDIS might just send her over the edge…
Of course, the other reason they may not have let us into any of the phone boxes (and there were several–the one pictured is from the lobby, but the museum itself had quite a few of the different phone boxes we’ve seen over the years) is because they are actual, functioning TARDISes. The reason the Doctor didn’t jump into my Experience was because he had merely parked his TARDIS at the museum and was off saving the world. Of course, it all makes sense now.
You will find that, unsurprisingly, the museum exit is through the gift shop. You will want to buy everything, and this will not surprise you either. What will surprise you is that you will not be able to afford any of the pretty things.
Everything is wonderful and beautiful, but hella expensive. If you want to buy something from the gift shop, save up. It makes it a bit worse because, at least when I was there, the US dollar was worth less than the pound making everything doubly expensive for me. Lame.
You will think the entrance to Torchwood/Ianto’s Door/Millennium Centre will be right behind the Experience. It isn’t, and because you aren’t feeling great, you’ll resign yourself to not seeing it and hop on the Number 6 bus to return to the train station. Literally the very next stop (or two stops, I can’t recall now) will be at the Millennium Centre and Mermaid Quay. Frustrated but ultimately too tired to leave the bus (and lacking another 1 pound 80 to get back on the bus), you will simply snap a picture from your seat.
Really though, this whole area isn’t too far from the Experience if you’re walking, and it’s even shorter if you’re taking the bus. This building is called the Millennium Centre, which you can find in Roald Dahl’s Pass. Apparently there are various Doctor Who/Torchwood things all around here. Ianto’s door (which is now apparently a bit of a Torchwood shrine to Ianto and others who died on the show) is near the location where the speedboats land on Mermaid Quay. Also, you might have picked this up from your viewings of Doctor Who/Torchwood, but just in case: quay is pronounced “key”, not “kway”.
Ultimately, it will be one of your favorite moments from the trip.
Seriously, the entire thing will be a giant celebration of Doctor Who with other people who love the series just as much as you do. It was, without a doubt, one of my favorite moments from the trip.
Have you been to the Doctor Who Experience? What did you think of it? Are you planning a trip to go out there sometime soon? Tell me all about it in the comments!