In honor of the finale of this season of Doctor Who, Your Humble Columnists present a review of our trip to the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff Bay. First of all, pay attention when you buy tickets because they offer a package deal with a brochure, a t-shirt, some postcards and a cool certificate that says you flew the TARDIS, which looks expensive at first until you realize that most of the stuff you can’t buy even at the Experience. They even have a way to buy a family-of-four package. When buying tickets in the US for events in the UK, pre-paying for extras is always a wise move because of fluctuations in the exchange rate and the usual cash shortage when on holiday overseas. The Doctor Who Experience is a bit of a hike from the closest bank machine so you are better off to pre-pay for some goodies and save your cash for those “I MUST have this!” moments in the little shop.
One of the first things you will notice upon arrival in Cardiff Bay is that as you look out over the water with the Millennium Center and the Torchwood Tower behind you, looking off to the left you will see the TARDIS parked rather unsteadily on an outcropping of rock. This marks the entrance to the Doctor Who Experience, so you simply hike or take a taxi (recommended if you have little ones) as close to the TARDIS as you can get, then you will be outside the building for the Experience. Once inside you will see that there is a little café and a ticket counter. The café is a good place to rest after your hike and to take turns watching your things as everyone makes a restroom run. The Experience is like a museum with a specific path to follow through which is timed by the electronic things going on around you, so leaving to go to the restroom can cause you to miss most of it.
The interactive parts of the Experience which you enter first are quite well-done, with things in the room reacting, videos turning themselves on, and a TARDIS to fly. This is quite good fun even for adults, as all the sides of the console have controls so many people have the chance to fly it and you get directions as to what to do. Of course you have some monster experiences, which are quite exciting and possibly a bit scary for the under 8s, just like the show.
After you exit the interactive portion of the Experience, you enter a section with costumes of companions and monsters, models of technology from the show and an exhibit of all eleven Doctors’ primary costumes from 1963 to present day. There you can also step onto the edge of The Tenth Doctor’s TARDIS console and you can take a picture of yourself there. Nearby is a photography area where you stand in front of a green-screen and it places you in the background of your choice. This is quite cool because you can end up with a souvenir photo of your group with the TARDIS on an alien planet. Like this:
Once you exit the museum area you end up in the souvenir shop, which sells a large variety of Doctor Who merchandise. If you are interested in t-shirts, be sure to ask which ones are not available anywhere else. Also they have other special merchandise for the Experience only, so check on which these are before making your buying choices. The prices are standard retail so unless one of the main street stores is having a special you will not pay any more for things than you would at Toys R Us (there is a large one of these in a Cardiff retail park) or Argos (a UK store sort of like Service Merchandise used to be).
On return to Cardiff Bay, there are several sites which were used as filming locations both in the Bay and short distances away by car or taxi. Look for a list on the web of these sites before heading out to explore. Some food suggestions: you must not miss Welsh cakes which are sold hot from a shop in the bay. Also for child-friendly fare there is a good hamburger restaurant in the bay and a Pizza Express which carries many American style entrees. For Asian fusion food there are branches of the Wagamama chain in Cardiff. For inexpensive UK entrees try one of the pubs in the area, there are several with good food near the bay and in town. There is a massive shopping center in town which has just about every chain in the UK and some stores you don’t find in London, like the wonderful shoe store Hotter.
Hopefully this information will make all our Whovian readers want to visit Cardiff; it is well worth the train trip from London. Too many Americans think a visit to London means they have visited the UK, but by skipping Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland they have really missed out on some beautiful countryside with much cleaner air.