The children on the bus… A summer family day out to Bluewater with Arriva Thameside service

When was the last time you went on a bus? And I’m not talking about a school trip, airport transfer or minibus to that hen do… And more specifically, have you taken your kids on a bus trip? It’s something so simple yet so many of us omit from our kids childhood in favour of the convenience of leaping in the car to get from A to B.

For some it is of course a necessity, but having always been fortunate enough to have a car to get the kids around in, I realise they have missed an experience that should be familiar to all of us, especially when we are all increasingly asked to question our lifestyle choices to make better decisions for our environment.

I can remember the last (and probably only time) I took the girls on the bus, and it was back in that crazy snow earlier this year, when we had decided in our wisdom to go for a snowy walk into town. The beast from the east took us all by surprise and we (I) decided we should bus it home. Girls were delighted, Dad Muddling Through couldn’t see past the taxi rank. Still, in favour of ‘an experience’ we did get the bus and the kids absolutely loved it.

Despite promising to do it more often, we hadn’t kept to our word until Arriva invited us to try out one of their Thameside routes within Kent for a family day out to try out their new cut price family ticket; for two adults and two children or one adult and three children to purchase a day pass for £14. It’s a one off purchase that allows you to travel anywhere within Kent (and into East Sussex on some routes) as much or little as you want within that day.

Now, admittedly, I probably could have gone braver than our chosen destination of Bluewater within my local Thameside service, which at 15 minutes away in the car is our local go to for shops, cinema and eating out….BUT I didn’t want to be over cocky with my confidence – we are still in the final stages of toilet training (TMI?!) and there is loads going on at Bluey this summer which is on our summer 2018 to do list.

So, armed with a rucksack, snacks, drinks and little else, we set off early on a Monday morning ready to seize the day and work out how the hell we bus it from our house to Bluewater.

Opting to leave the buggy at home we walked the ten minutes to our nearest bus stop, and anticipating at least one change in the towns main bus station, we had a pleasant start to the journey. Not bad for beginners…

Whilst we waited I set about downloading the arriva app (nothing like the last minute) but the bus arrived before I even had a chance to track our bus.

Once on the bus the girls were delighted to spot all the sights of the local area from a different viewpoint (and with no seatbelt eek) and had a whale of a time spotting their Nanny and Grandads house, their cousins road and some familiar landmarks.

I meanwhile was noting all the places I had no idea we were on the bus route for – Sainsburys, Morrissons, friends houses (handy for summer BBQs) and generally enjoying the ability to sit back and watch the girls whilst NOT DRIVING.

After a scenic route taking 40 minutes we arrived at the Bluewater bus station. Disembarking we stumbled across the toilet and information desk where a super friendly guy helped us find a toilet without a queue, and gave us a handful of leaflets offering us discounts to eat, off the rides at the Beach, and letting us know all the fun stuff going on at Bluewater this summer.

We set off to the Bluewater Nature trail – something on our summer 2018 to do list (and as rain was forecast for the afternoon), and conveniently struck gold by skipping the queues in the school shoe shop and got another summer action item done.

The Nature trail is a hidden gem beyond the bustle of the shops at Bluewater and one we’d highly recommend if you are visiting. The picturesque lakeside walk features a quiz (with an impressive prize available from the concierge), a pixie village, a park and loads of nature facts and bits to do en route. It’s probably around 30-40 minutes to complete depending on how little their legs are, and best of all is totally free to visit.

Having worked up an appetite we decided to take a pitstop; an early lunch at the neighbouring Zizzi to gather our bearings and have a rest before hitting the beach at Bluewater.

Thanks to the lovely guy at the desk, we had a 25% off food voucher in the summer dining leaflet (well worth picking one up!) which made lunch seem all the better, and the girls and I enjoyed a rare slap up meal in style, instead of some sweaty sarnies on the go out of a tupperware box. I even enjoyed a glass of rose, after all, not driving!

The kids menu at Zizzi’s went down a storm with the kids, and we washed down the meal with some chocacino’s whilst I had a coffee and enjoyed the peace.

After lunch we grabbed some cash for The Beach and swapped our completed quiz cards from the Nature trail for some impressive Nature sticker books. So far so good and without a wobble in sight.

As promised to the girls, we finished off the day with a trip to The Beach at Bluewater – having been to the opening night back in 2017 we were keen to see how it had changed. The weather forecast had clearly scared off the crowds as it was super quiet, and we got our pick of the rides.

At £3 to get in each and each ride costing 1-4 tokens, it’s not a cheap excursion, but with a budget of £25 we managed to ‘win’ a toy each and have a couple of rides – the girls were too short to get on most things! We also were lucky to have some ‘token off’ vouchers again in our bundle from the Bluewater staff. Bonus!

All feeling pretty ready to head home we made it back to the bus stop just in time to grab our return bus, having asked for the right bay when we arrived.

As we all flopped into our seats and I contemplated how heavenly it was to have sat down, the heavens opened and world war three kicked off between the girls. I guess the no pushchair decision had taken it’s toll and a utterly exhausted three year old did what three year olds do best.

Having to hang on to a tantrumming three year old for twenty minutes should have been horrendous, but my fellow passengers on the bus were so lovely and helpful. It really restored my faith in people somewhat, and as a kind lady chatted to her and finally managed to calm her down, the Mouse sobbed into my lap for the last ten minutes and I was grateful to be in a position I could do so. The bus driver was also incredibly understanding, I guess he’s seen worse!

The bus trip to Bluewater was a really memorable summer day out, and one I know the girls will remember for a very long time. It made such a nice change to make the trip all about fun, instead of racing through a list of to do items, which is so often the case. It was a real day of quality girls time, which is just what we needed.

Despite the ‘incident’on the way home, which I couldn’t not include in the interest of honest parenting (!) I really loved braving the bus with the kids. I suppose I kind of felt like I had conquered a fear of my own, adventuring out without a car to leap back in to and drive home at the drop of a hat as needed. Daft as that may sound, I think having two kids as travel companions on public transport can seem a little daunting, yet I found it surprisingly easy.

I also discovered my own public transport route all around my hometown that I was totally oblivious to; I now know exactly how and where to go if I choose or need to, and I know this won’t be the last time I use the bus route, with or without the kids. After all, the less we all use our cars the better it is for everyone, for me, for you, for a better today and definitely for a better tomorrow.

x MMT

Disclosure: This post is in collaboration with Arriva Buses

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